Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Spring gathers pace

April has been a really busy month with nights away for work, a short family holiday and a family bereavement. Below is a bit of a wrap up of some bird and butterfly sightings this month. I've posted two short separate blogs about visits to the Peak District and Bempton Cliffs.

Friday 4th April, Snettisham
A work visit in between discussing the storm damage it was nice to see a male Red Breasted Merganser, a Black Brant and three Mediterranean Gulls. At the Coastal Park I heard my first Willow Warbler of the year.

Monday 7th April
On the way home from Norwich I saw my first Swallow of the Spring whilst waiting for the traffic lights at Heacham to change colour.

Wednesday 9th April
A sunny lunchtime walk in the Rosary Cemetery in Norwich gave me nice views of my fist Orangetip Butterflies of the year plus Holly Blue and Small Tortoiseshell and singing Blackcap and Chiff Chaff.

Rosary Chiff Chaff

Rosary Primroses

Friday 11th April
Durng a work visit to York University it was nice to see a male Goosander on the University lake and a early Swallow hunting for food. Two Great Crested Grebe nests close to the edge of the lake were a real treat.
York Uni Great Crested Grebes

Saturday 18th April
I took no 1 son for short walk down the West Bank path at Titchwell, from Parrinder Hide we saw Little Ringed Plover and Yellow Wagtail and elsewhere we heard Cetti's and Sedge Warblers. A kindly old lady offered to lend my 5 year old her bird book so that he could find out what the Black and White bird was only to be told he knew that it was an Avocet.
Titchwell Avocet

Monday 21st
A walk with the kids around Wharton's Belt at Courtyard Farm was great for lots of early Spring Butterflies including some wonderfully fresh looking Speckled Woods and Peacocks and more Green Hairstreaks than I can ever remember seeing here, in the short time I had with them I saw at least six insects quite easily.
Green Hairstreak

Wednesday 23rd April

A walk with no2 son along the top of the Dunes at Holme NWT this morning was wonderful with seen and / or heard: Cuckoo, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Chiff Chaff, Sedge Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Whimbrel, Sandwich tern and 8 Wheatears.

A brief visit to the Peak District

River Manifold at Ilam Hall

Monday 14 to Friday 18 April

Just back from a short family get together in the Peak District. We stayed just to the south of the National Park close the north shore of Carsington Water at Knockerdown Cottages. This was first and foremost a chance for the family to get together and for the kids to play with their cousins, but I did managed a couple of short early morning walks.

Knockerdown Cottages were a great place to have a reunion with a small on site swimming pool, kids playground etc, the one major drawback being that our double bed was perhaps the most uncomfortable bed I have ever had the misfortune to have to try and seep on.

Birds seen included god numbers of Buzzards and the odd Sparrowhawk, Grey Wagtail and Dipper on the River Manifold at Ilam Hall. But the best birding was along the lane that ran from our cottage towards Carsington Water, highlights of two 30 - 40 minute early morning walks along this were: Nuthatch, Bullfinch, Willow Tit, Willow Warbler, and Blackcap, Really hadn't expected Willow Tit, I see a lot of Marsh Tits in Norfolk and these were noticeably different to look at and listen too.

Willow Tit near Carsington Water

Both pictures taken with the Panasonic Lumix TZ30 and the Willow Tot has been heavily cropped.

An afternoon at Bempton Cliffs

Gannet at Bempton

Saturday 12 April

I managed to grab a few hours at Bempton during a work visit to York this weekend/ Always a great place o visit in the Spring with an assault on the sense from the noise of the seabirds especially the Kittiwakes, the fishy smell of the seabird colony and of course the great views of Gannets.

What I was also reminded of on this visit was that Bempton also has a great supporting cast of land birds including a colony of tree sparrows nesting on and around the Visitor Centre, Corn Buntings in the cliff top fields and Peregrines on the cliffs. 

During our visit we saw all of the breeding seabirds: Gannets, Kittiwakes, Herring Gulls, Shags, Guillemot's, Razorbills, Puffin's, as well as Jackdaw's, Rock Dove's and Peregrines. We also had great views of Tree Sparrow's and Corn Bunting's. Worth noting that there are not that many Puffins nesting here and you can find yourself working quite hard to see them

Another Gannet at Bempton

A shame about the lack of a decent cafe with the food offer restricted to some long life cakes and packets of crisps served by a rather dour Yorkshire man, still I believes the RSPB have received a grant from HLF to extend and improve the Visitor Centre so hopefully the catering will improve.

Peregrine and Herring Gull having an altercation at Bempton

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Warming up, first Blackcap and lots of Chiff Chaffs

A pretty standard last ten days or so with a mix o work and family time and bird sightings woven into these.
Chiff Chaff, Rosary Cemetery, Norwich
Last Thursday the 27th of March saw me at Titchwell for a meeting that was enlivened by a female Brambling on the feeders outside the office. The following day I helped a friend out with some jobs at Snettisham at lunchtime and was rewarded with great views of five Mediterranean Gulls on one of the islands.

A lovely early spring morning on Saturday saw me taking the kids for a walk around Ken Hill Woods where several Chiff Chaffs could be heard singing and we saw numerous butterflies including 8 - 10 Brimstone's nearly as many Small Tortoiseshell's and a couple of Peacocks. Then in the afternoon I had a quick walk along Lovers Lane at the back of Hunstanton and enjoyed a Common Buzzard, lots of Hares, drumming Great Spotted Woodpeckers and 10 to 20 Yellowhammers, walking back up Downs road a flock of c 40 House Sparrows was great to see and hear.

Sunday and I bumped into a Stoat and Little Owl on the Ringstead to Choseley road in the morning and a Buzzard and Hen Harrier on a back road near Stanhoe in the afternoon.

Spring blossom, Rosary Cemetery, Norwich
Today [Tuesday 1 April] I had a wonderful twenty minutes at lunchtime in the Rosary Cemetery in Norwich, real warm short sleeves weather and I was able to watch a sun bathing Grey Squirrel and see and hear my first Blackcap of the Spring as well as singing Chiff Chaffs, Stock Doves, Great Tits and Blackbirds and a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker. Plus a couple of Peacock butterflies and loads of Primroses.

Primroses, Rosary Cemetery, Norwich

Monday, 24 March 2014

Redwing's out, Wheatear's in

From mid February until about a week ago life went on hold as we cared for our two little boys who too it in turn to be ill with Chicken Pox and a nice range of other bugs. Fortunately other than both having colds both are well again and so I am able to update this blog with details of the few birds I've stumbled across since early March.
Boats in the Spring sunshine at low tide, Burnham Overy Staithe

Work took me out to Great Missenden on the edge of the Chilterns and just beyond the reach of the Metropolitan line.  Walking to Marylebone station to get the overland train I picked out a pair of Mandarin Duck in flight over a garden square. Out of the train window I saw three Red Kites and there were often Kites and Common Buzzards over the conference centre and a pair of Grey Wagtails feeding on the lawn.

Sunday the 16th was a quiet family Sunday with a visit to Grand dads in Brancaster, standing outside in the garden there was a light passage of Redwing's heading west and that evening I heard more Redwing's calling over Hunstanton.

On Monday 17th I was I Minsmere for a meeting and managed a very short walk on the reserve after the meeting during which I heard my first Cetti's Warblers and Chiff Chaffs for the year and watched a couple of Marsh Harriers quarter the reedbed from Bittern Hide.

A lunchtime walk in Ken Hill Wood on Friday 21st was enlivened by all five resident Tit species [Marsh, Great, Coal, Blue and Long Tailed] and I picked up on call and then saw a pair of Bullfinches, rather embarrassingly these were a year tick.

On Saturday 22nd I found a nice flock of Redwings up by Choesley drying barns and a male Wheatear in a ploughed field at Courtyard Farm.  I took the time on this day to check through flocks of Turnstones at Hunstanton and Brancaster Staithe and couldn't find any colour ringed birds which suggest that the flocks of Turnstones I was seeing earlier in the winter have moved on taking the marked birds with them. 

Yesterday the 23rd I managed ten minutes in Brancaster Staithe Harbour photographing Black Tailed Godwits in poor light but it was so good to see some of these moulting into their lovely red breeding plumage it was worth the effort.
Black Tailed Godwit, Brancaster Staithe

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Firecrest and other stuff on the move

In some small way its felt has if my birding mojo has started to return this past fortnight. Having spent the winter not seeing very much at all I've managed to find a couple of OK birds and had a general sense that some movement was happening and in my own small way I was connecting with it.

A Shag at sunset
Tuesday 18th saw me back under the cliffs in Hunstanton this time with a DSLR and a big lens but unfortunately I couldn''t find the previous evenings Peregrine, I did though again manage to see four Shags. Earlier that day a family walk in Ken Hill Woods turned up three Marsh Tits my first of the year there.

On the 21st I found a flock of 50 - 100 Fieldfare at Courtyard Farm and a couple of days later a similar sized flock feeding in another roadside field. Whilst a train journey south across the Fens from King's Lynn on the 24th was notable for the flocks of Redwings, Fieldfares and Starlings in the fields and maybe the last wild swans I'll see on this journey this winter, what I took for a herd of Whoopers.


A drive on the 22nd to get our two year boy to sleep was enlivened by a flock of around 30 Bramblings in the fields and hedgerows between Choseley drying barns and Choseley hamlet. Earlier that morning a family walk along the boardwalk on the edge of the marshes at Brancaster had turned up my first butterfly of the year a Small Tortoiseshell in a marsh side garden sitting on a snowdrop.

The 26th saw me taking a lunchtime walk around Ken Hill Wood and although pleasant was pretty uneventful bird wise until I came to leave the wood in Common Road, I noticed a Long Tailed Tit that seemed to be accompanied by a Chiff Chaff. Raising my binoculars I quickly realised it wasn't a Chiff Chaff but a Crest and for a moment I was non-plussed by the socking great white supercilium on the bird and the realisation that I had lucked into a Firecrest. I spent the next 20 minutes or so trying to get a picture with my little compact Panasonic Lumix TZ30. The picture below is heavily cropped and was the best of the bunch taken at 3200 ISO. 

Ken Hill Firecrest

Ken Hill continued to produce the goods with three flyover Crossbills on the 28th and nice views of a Siskin on the 29th a species which has been thin on the ground there this winter.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Sap starting to rise: Monday 10 to Monday 17 February

A relatively quiet first part of the week with the highlight perhaps being a Barn Owl in my headlights near Heacham, as I returned home from Norwich one evening.
Common Buzzard

A drive around the back roads on Sunday 16th was enlivened by two Common Buzzards drifting low over the car whilst no 2 son took his afternoon nap in the back. But the highlight of this drive was a couple of Brown Hare's that I spotted in a roadside field, normally these would have run off the moment I stopped the car but they had their minds on other things and I had a great five minutes watching them chase and box around the field, the sun even came out for a short while. You can see a few more pictures from this session on my Flickr page.

Another feature of the weekend was noticing for the first time in ages Skylarks in full song, a great sign that as the days draw out we are inexorably moving towards Spring.

Boxing Brown Hares

Today was taken up with a family outing to Wells Beach, all very quiet for birds although it was nice to hear a Little Grebe 'laughing' on the boating Lake where a male Goldeneye was great to see.

Shags on Hunstanton Cliffs at dusk

This evening I managed a walk at dusk under Hunstanton Cliffs, highlights were a pair of Red Breasted Merganser on the sea, c 350 Brent Geese over, lots of Fulmars on the cliffs, plus four Shags sitting on the sea that one by one took off into the wind and circled round over the sea before landing on the Cliffs to roost. As I headed home , in a bit of a hurry kids to bath, I flushed Peregrine which landed on a rocky bluff and allowed me to take some very grainy and distant pictures with the compact camera I had in my pocket. A nice end to the day.

Grainy, distant, slightly blurry shot of a Peregrine on Hunstanton Cliffs