Sunday, 22 November 2015

Brief encounter with a Kingfisher

The weather has turned and the last hint of Autumn is behind us and this is now winter. Yesterday we had bitter cold gusting north westerly winds blowing over the bins in people front gardens in Hunstanton and providing birders on the east coast with a few Little Auks to enjoy.  By this morning the wind had dropped and there was a blue sky over the town, in my case I could see it from the windows of the Oasis leisure centre where I was attending no2 sons 4th birthday party.
Kingfisher, Holme Marsh
By this afternoon the weather had closed in again and grabbing the chance for an hours fresh air I headed to Holme Marsh where I figured I'd have the place to myself and the shelter of the hides if I needed it.
Cropped Kingfisher image, Holme Marsh
It was good to see the reed and Typha had been cleared from in front of the first hide and from here I saw a Cettis warbler in brief partial glimpses as it worked its way through the base of some reeds. A Barn Owl put in a brief appearance and I then decided to look from the second Hide, here the best birds were a male and a female Marsh Harrier hunting the NWT reserve. Then the high pitched call of a Kingfisher had me looking hard out of the hide window as a bird landed on a Typha head in front of the hide, its blue back and orangey underside doing their best to brighten a dull afternoon. I grabbed my compact camera [a Panasonic Lumix TZ30] and managed a few shots of the perched bird, not bad results for something the size of cigarette packet. The Kingfisher departed and in its place came rain, lots of it hitting and pock marking the surface of the pool. Time to head home.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Goldcrest's for Lunch

The east coast deluge of Goldcrest's is over. Just a few weeks back vast numbers of these tiny warblers could be found in almost any piece of seaside cover.

For such a tiny bird, they are smaller than a Wren, Goldcrest's are impressive little things with their orange or yellow crests, small needle bills and round black eyes set against olive green feathers. It can be hard to imagine such little bundles of feathers deliberately crossing the North Sea. Indeed an old colloquial name for Goldcrest was Woodcock Pilot the belief being that to cross the sea they'd hitch a ride on the back of a Woodcock, acting as a pilot for the larger, stronger but perhaps less intelligent bird.
Goldcrest, Rosary Cemetery, Norwich
So here I am on a mid November lunchtime in the heart of Norwich, its sunny and clear but the cold wind tells me that we have almost completed the transition from autumn into winter. A familiar set of chattering and high pitched bird calls has made me stop on the path beneath a couple of small trees that have nearly lost all of their leaves. In them are a mix of small birds Blue, Great and Long Tailed Tits are the most numerous and most obvious but a high pitched call and a couple of fidgety tiny shapes give away the presence of a couple of "Crests"

I start phishing, sucking air between my lips and teeth making a rasping, screeching sound almost guaranteed to bring in curious small birds for a closer look, something I'll need as I have no binoculars with me.

I want to get the Crests in close to check if one of them might be a less common Firecrest and also, well because I can, and to try and get a picture with my compact camera, which is not the best tool for the job.

As I phish a succession of small birds drop in for a look and eventually two small Goldcrests move to my side of the tree flitting and fidgeting through the bare branches whilst I try and get a shot. I can easily see from the views that I get that they are both Goldcrests and I even manage a couple of OK shots.
Goldcrest, Rosary Cemetery, Norwich
Time is pressing and my lunch break is nearly over and I need to retrace my steps through the overgrown cemetery and back to my office, I do so with a small smile of my face as m encounter with these small birds has given me a small birding fix for the day.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

This autumn just keeps on giving: Bluetail, Issy Shrike and Pallas's Warbler

I watched the amazing fall of migrants along the north Norfolk coast unfold not in the field but one step removed on the Internet on the BirdGuides website and various blogs, pictures and accounts of  a stellar cast of eastern rares. Work and a child with a stomach bug got in the way of experiencing any of the birds first hand until Friday when finally I could no longer resist and I took the morning off and drove along the coast road to Holkham.

My plan was to walk quickly to where the Red Flanked Bluetail was located down by the Cross Tracks at the Western end of the Pines in some Sallows and then work my way back east spending more time looking at the Goldcrests in the hope of pulling out a Pallas's or Yellow Browed Warbler. And of course the Isabeline Shrike that was present as well, I knew I wouldn't have time for Wells Wood and the goodies on show there.
Grab shot of Red Flanked Bluetail at Holkham
As I walked I could constantly hear Goldcrests and my planned brisk walk slowed as I paused to look at these. Over head there were flocks of newly arrived Redwings calling in flight. I walked past the small trail for the Bluetail and re-traced my steps with another birder who had done likewise. Arriving round the back of the Sallows I joined a small congregation and the bird quickly showed posing for a second , just long enough for me to admire its deep bluetail before disappearing from view. I stayed for an hour and had a couple more equally brief but worse views before tearing myself away.

Next stop was the Shrike which had apparently been showing well earlier, it wasn't when I arrived in its favoured area and it was only when another birder came and fetched me that I got 0onto it feeding along a scrubby ditch line out on the grazing marsh. That was my lot and I needed a brisk walk back to the car and then home for an afternoon of office work.
Isabeline Shrike [and Redwing] digi-scoped through an very old Nikon ED Scope
But I still had a Pallas's Warbler sized itch to scratch, I'd not seen one for a few years and I didn't want to miss the opportunity that this autumn provided, so today I managed to get out for a couple of hours in the afternoon and headed to Holme where a bird had been reported. Getting directions to the area of The Forestry [sea Buckthorn and Sallow scrub] the bird was in I didn't feel overly confident but I got myself in the right area and a couple of birders put me onto where the bird had last been seen. They left me on my own and I managed to pish the bird out very briefly, what a beauty my favourite bird of the autumn, like a Goldcrest dipped in Sherbet that crown strip and yellow rump, yowser! I set the camera on its maximum ISO setting and grabbed a few shots which I have heavily cropped here.
Pallas's Warbler at Holme

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Essence of autumn at Holme: Yellow Browed's and a Firecrest

A busy weekend of chauffeuring to and from children's birthday parties, shopping and a trip to the swimming pool with number one son. But by late afternoon on Sunday I managed to find a couple of hours clear to make the short drive along the coast road from Hunstanton to Holme where some of the influx of Yellow Browed Warblers had been reported on BirdGuides.

Yellow Browed Warbler at Holme NWT
Getting down to the The Firs at 4.30pm I chose to park in the NOA car park, I wandered over to a couple of birders staring hard at a Poplar tree and within a few minutes I had my first fleeting glance of the afternoon of a Yellow Browed Warbler, after a few minutes I had seen this bird reasonably well and taking the birders advice wandered over to the sycamores behind the NWT car park where three Yellow Browed's and a Firecrest had been showing well.

Positioning myself on the sunny side of the Sycamores with a stunted Horse Chestnut all burnt brown leaves in front of them I quickly got onto a flicker in the canopy and soon had good scope views of a Yellow Browed which even posed long enough for a usable but poor quality digiscoped image.

Firecrest in Sycamore at Holme NWT
With time pressing I headed back to the car pausing on the car park side of the Sycamores where within a couple of minutes I was getting good views of a wonderful Firecrest and even managed a couple of so so snaps of this. Soon a Yellow Browed appeared and I managed some much better shots with my DSLR. As I watched a Green Sandpiper called in the distance and I reflected that this quick hour out was in many ways the essence of autumn birding distilled: a warm still blue sky October afternoon, staring into a clump of coastal sycamores, looking for eastern vagrants.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Lunchtime Jays and Squirrels

The woods whether at Ken Hill in North West Norfolk or in the centre of Norwich at the Rosary Cemetery have been quiet during my lunchtime walks of late.
Grey Squirrel with Conker in Oak tree, Rosary Cemetery, Norwich
Today as I walked around the Rosary Cemetery the resident Grey Squirrels were much more in evidence than they have been recently bounding across the leaf litter between the gravestones, grey tails streaming behind them as they searched the ground for food. Then as I climbed the small hill in the middle of the cemetery still enclosed by green leaves I could hear the manic call of a agitated Squirrel coming from a large oak tree. This individual sat out on a bough allowing me to take a few shots with my little compact camera of which the one here is the sharpest. The Squirrel can clearly be seen to be carrying a horse Chestnut in its mouth so given its position in an oak must have carried this from somewhere else.

The other reliable wildlife sighting in the Cemetery in recent weeks have been the Jay although these can be much harder to get close enough to for photography. This bird did perch up on a gravestone and stay still long enough for me to stalk it and get this shot with my compact camera at its maximum telephoto.
Jay, Rosary Cemetery, Norwich
Hopefully as autumn kicks in the lunchtime birding here will get a little bit livelier, how long before I hear the first Redwings of thee winter?

Thursday, 30 July 2015


The clock on the old stately home that now serves as the RSPB's HQ chimes for one o'clock and the chattering of staff on their lunch time walks carries across the gravel drive that runs past a neatly mown lawn up to the large wooden double doors that lead to Reception. In the middle of the lawn is a oblong formal looking pond, but this being the RSPB HQ it doubles up as a home for wildlife and I can see a Common Darter perched on a stone and someone peering intently into the vegetation. He tells me he is looking unsuccessfully for Natterjack Toads.
Natterjacklet, The Lodge RSPB reserve
The middle of the pond is a tangle of wild plants and the water is free of fish which would otherwise predate any tadpoles. Then my companion sees one a tiny little Natterjacklet smaller than the bees coming into drink and with a distinctive yellow dorsal stripe. Once we have seen one we soon spot several more of these toadlets each one a conservation success story the Lodge reserve having been repopulated with Natterjacks with spawn from Norfolk.

Natterjacklets, The Lodge RSPB reserve
A great way to end a day of meetings and something to put a spring in my step on the walk back to the station.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Twilight Impressions of Titchwell

I popped into Titchwell Marsh yesterday evening for the last hour of light. The water levels were higher than recently raised by the heavy rain we've had here in Norfolk. It was exactly peaceful with the sound of  music carrying from the village [presumably from a wedding at one of the hotels].

Here are a few impressions of the birds and wildlife that I saw.

Constant invisible pinging of Bearded Tits coming from the reedbed as I walked down the West Bank path.

The dead trees to the east of the Fresh Marsh filling with at least 27 Little Egrets and then emptying as the birds moved to settle and disappear into in the deciduous trees behind them.

A rush of wings as the roosting Starlings are spooked into the air and then a Magpie appears underneath them and laboriously beats vertically up into the middle of the panicking flock trying to take a Starling in flight. Failing in its impersonation of a Sparrowhawk the Magpie disappears and the Starlings settle but not before the waders feeding on the patch of mud nearest to this piece of action are spooked into a precautionary flight.

Avocets "fidegetting" in the Twilight

In the twilight flocks of Avocets and Gulls get up and fly around the Marsh in what might best be called pre-roost fidgets.
Fox on Betts Marsh

As I drag myself away at about 9.15pm a Fox walks across the dried out muddy surface of Betts Marsh. It flushes a Grey Heron , the fox and Heron have a stand off, with the Fox clearly scared and wary of the Heron. I take a picture of the Fox with my camera cranked up to as mega high ISO setting. 

Spotted Redshank at dusk
Spotted Redshank's are always immaculate birds and tonight it is a pleasure to be able to watch several feeding in the shallows in front of Island Hide.

A Barn Owl, more cream than coffee in its plumage, hunts the salting between me and the setting Sun and the old pill box to the West of the reserve.

A juvenile Water Rail furtively walks along the edge of the reeds along the thin strip of mud left exposed by the raised water levels.

A wonderful evenings birding.