Friday, 16 January 2015

Lunchtime Peregrine

I've taken lunchtime walks in and around Norwichs' Rosary cemetery and surrounding residential streets at least once a week for the last ten years or so. Some of these walks are real stomps to clear my head between meetings, some pass in a daze as I think about challenges at work and others [my favourites] are when I pause to take pictures and do a spot of birding with out binoculars.

Crap picture of a Peregrine over Norwich last week
During the week one walk started as a stomp, but as I walked up a side street with my head down against the wind a movement caught my eye and I instinctively looked up to see the distinctive low flying shape of a Peregrine as it flew past me and over the cemetery fence. Now I'm used to seeing Peregrines but the unexpected context and brief views left me doubting the sighting and keen for better views. So my stomp turned to a measured stroll as I walked downhill through the cemetery, constantly looking at the window of sky framed by the mature trees that grow here.

Just as I was about to walk out the cemetery gate into Rosary road I picked out the peregrine it's distinctive silhouette high above the cemetery.  As I walked down the road back to the office the bird drifted towards me and I took a few shots with my compact camera. Then it peeled away to half heartedly chase a gull, before giving up, at this point a woodpigeon flew over the office roof and did a sharp U turn when it saw the peregrine, which them drifted away to the south.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

End of one year list and the start of the next

Last year my UK year list ended on 179, poor by the standards of most folk who keep year lists but judged against my last few years birding pretty good and evidence that the boys although still small are slightly less demanding, that and the time saving benefits of internet grocery shopping that I have become a big fan of over the past few months.
Blue Tit, Rosary Cemetery Norwich
That 179 also includes some great birding moments that I can look back on last year. Below are some that with no reference to my notebook stand out in my memory.
Half a day at Bempton in the spring, good company, nice weather, spectacular seabirds and a great peregrine.

Five minutes in the company of some ring necked parakeets feeding on the seed pods of an Indian Bean tree in St James's park a real biological mash up in the heart of London.

This winter finally getting some birds into our pocket handkerchief Hunstanton Garden the highlight being an autumn Coal Tit. Like I said all things are relative.

A morning a Holme in the spring with our then two year old boy, lovely weather and summer migrants  in force and singing away.

A spring lunchtime in the Rosary cemetery in Norwich, it just felt perfect, warm and sunny with singing Chiff-Chaffs, Blackcaps and a Stock Dove.

Roydon Common before Christmas with no1 son and locating the Great Grey Shrike. It was just lovely to share the moment with him.

Another Shrike moment a mad after work dash in the autumn to Burnham Norton taking advantage of the new flexitime rules to see the Steppe Great Grey Shrike.

A morning at Burnham Overy Staithe in the midst of a autumn fall, with my personal tally including a Yellow Browed Warbler and two Red Breasted Flycatchers.

And finally that New Years Eve Waxwing in my late father in laws Brancaster garden, this was rather wonderful.

So for 2015 well, it will still be a full on year at work and at home and it includes a big birthday for me to mull on. But I've set myself a modest personal goal of seeing 200 plus species in the UK this year. Having made this resolution I decided to focus my efforts early in the new year on getting a few of the less reliable winter birds under my belt and so far as you'll read below I've done ok in the limited time I have had available, with Twite, Rough Legged Buzzard, Great Grey Shrike, Red Kite and Black Necked Grebe all seen.

Thursday 1st January 2015
A brief visit to a grey, overcast and cold Titchwell Marsh where I spent an hour in Island hide. There were high water levels, but I saw most of the freshwater ducks and four marsh harriers. Earlier in teh day I'd popped into Brancaster Staithe and seen a few of the common waders. A bonus was a Tree Sparrow in a friends garden in Brancaster on his bird feeders.
Brancaster Staithe, New Years Day 2015

Sunday 4th
A 149 East on Burnham Overy Staithe overlooking Holkham freshes. Saw maybe three Common Buzzard and a single distant Rough Legged Buzzard, also year ticked White Fronted Goose from here.

Monday 5
The day before the kids went back to school so I took the morning off work to look after them and we headed to a bitterly cold Thornham Harbour. On the drive down to the harbour a pair of Bullfinch flew across the road between tall hedgerows. We walked a little way out towards Holme and soon found the flock of Twite and I eventually counted 58 on the ground together at one point. Aldso added Rock Pipit and Linnet to the year list.
Twite, Thornham
Tuesday 6th
A real surprise on the morning commute into Norwich was a Merlin bombing across the rod just south of Guist. A brief but distinctive barrel chested arrow shaped falcon.

6th and 7th
Lunchtime walks in Norwich's Rosary cemetery were quiet but added Nuthatch, Long tailed tit, Redwing and Great Spotted Woodpecker to my year list.

Thursday 8th
Train south from King's Lynn to London added Bewicks and Whooper swans to the year list plus the usual smattering of Roe Deer in the Fens.

Friday 9th
Lunchtime and a quick in and out visit to look at the southernmost pit at Snettisham RSPB where I quickly scored the Black Necked Grebe I was after. First reaction on seeing it was, what a cutie with its fluffed up feathers and ruby red eye.

Black Necked Grebe, Snettisham
Sunday 11th
I needed to visit the municipal dump in Heacham and took the opportunity to carry on down the road and pop into Roydon Common to see if I could see the wintering Great Grey Shrike. On arrival the rutted, muddy car park was surprisingly full and one old boy with an east midlands accent said that there were lots of folk looking for the Shrike but that it wasn't showing.

Roydon Common
Heading out and following the path along the southern edge of the Common I quickly located the silhouetted Shrike alternately perched and hunting the top of the rise to my south. It then flew down out onto the heath perching at the top of a lone birch tree from where it was flushed by a couple of dog walkers and disappeared from view.

After this I headed back to the car stopping for a few scans which turned up two to three Common Buzzards, a Red Kite, male Stonechat, a handful of Fieldfares and the distant yaffling call of a Green Woodpecker. All in all a productive half hours birding.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Waxwing - Great Bird to end the year with.

New Year's Eve Waxwing, Brancaster, Norfolk
Was it a birding sixth sense that made me look into the berry laden bush that overhung the shed in which my kids were noisily playing? I'd' clocked the mass of red berry's earlier and thought it ought to be good for winter thrushes or even in a better winter for them waxwings. 

As I walked towards the shed on New Years Eve my eye was first caught by a male blackbird diving into the depths of the berry laden tree above it, and then a pale starling sized bird sitting on a branch that was weighed down by red berry's, a waxwing.

Now at this time of year as I walk and drive around Norfolk I am constantly, almost subconsciously, scanning trees and shrubs for waxwings. Day in day out my mind is scanning and filtering likely spots for a waxwing to perch and feed and then filtering out the perches with no birds on them and the rag bag of birds such as Starlings and Thrushes that more than 99 times out of 100 I do see. 

I guess these fleeting non-sightings are as much a manifestation of my birding sixth sense as the rare occasions when all those conscious and subconscious habits that are the culmination of  more than 10,000 hours in the field come together and turn up a quality bird.

New Year's Eve Waxwing, Brancaster, Norfolk
Over the last few years driving around Norfolk I've found a autumn Great Grey Shrike, instinct telling me to vary might commute home and take a slightly longer route via the coast. Various Red Kites who's' distinctive long winged flight triggers something in my birding radar to distinguish them from large gulls even at some distance. And of course on several occasions flocks of Waxwings.

One of the great things about waxwings is that they are pretty distinctive with their head crests and face masks and so within seconds I'd been able to call my wife over and show her and our two small boys the Waxwing. I quickly ran indoors and grabbed my little compact super zoom camera and was able to spend ten minutes grabbing some record shots before the bird gave its trilling call and flew off.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Goldfinch Roost in Hunstanton

Roosting Goldfinches, Hunstanton
 A metallic chattering call and an undulating gently bouncing flight gave the flock of Goldfinches away as they flew over my head and around Hunstantons' Sensory Garden. In the flat weak light of a December afternoon they looked anything but golden more the same uniform grey of the bare branches of the trees they were dropping into and then out of in this pre-roost gathering.

I tried to make a rough count of how many birds were present and estimated about 50 only for a similar sized flock to fly over a different corner of the Sensory Garden. I paused from my walk for a few minutes to enjoy these birds and tried to grab a few shots with my compact camera. 

Roosting Goldfinches, Hunstanton
As I left I noticed more, presumably different birds in small flocks heading in the direction of the Sensory Garden, so my guess is that there could have been anywhere from 100 to 150+ Goldfinches gathering here on this dull winters afternoon.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Water Pipit and stuff at Titchwell

Little Egret, NW Norfolk
With no 2 son needing a visit with his mum to the out of hours doctor in Fakenham. I took the opportunity to take our 5 year old for a walk at Titchwell Marsh and a visit to the RSPB shop to replenish our supply of mealworms.

With a clear blue sky, it was mild and I felt a little warm in my winter coat. First stop was Island Hide where it soon became apparent that a combination of a low winter sun in our eyes and the distribution of birds on the marsh meant we needed to walk onto Parrinder Hide.

Back on the path we stopped so that no 1 son could look through my scope at the distant flock of Golden Plovers, he managed to do this describing their colour and movement to me. Next was a bit of a wow moment for him as I set the scope up on a close male Teal which he described on looking through he scope as "like it was almost right next to us".

Once settled in Parrinder Hide I let him use my compact camera to snap away at the Teal feeding in front of the hide, whilst doing this he would occasionally stop and announce to the hide in general that their were "so many birds here!" Scanning I quickly picked out Ruff, Redshank, Golden Plover, Snipe and Teal and then the bird I was after a distant Water Pipit feeding along the edge of one of the islands.

It was Time to head back and we stopped briefly to look at and photograph together a Little Egret on the edge of the Brackish Marsh and I got scope views of a male Stonechat perched on top of a Bramble bush on the grazing marsh to the west of the reserve.

Last stop before the car was the shop to buy a jumbo pack of mealworms and then into the car and home just as the sun disappeared behind a bank of grey cloud and the temperature dropped.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Great Grey Shrike at Roydon Common

Great Grey Shrike, Roydon Common
 I can remember the last Great Grey Shrike I saw at Roydon Common a few winters back. It was a crisp sunny day and we watched the Shrike catching Lizards. Today it was cold and grey when no 1 son (aged 5 1/2) and I parked up in a rutted car park, two thirds puddles to one third slippery orange mud. 

Fieldfares, Roydon Common
Heading south away from the car a flock of 50+ thrushes rose from a puddle in the middle of the path in front of us where they had been bathing and drinking. Their calls gave them away as mainly being Fieldfares with a few Redwings and Blackbirds thrown in. We paused for a moment and I set up the scope so that no 1 son could have a go at watching birds through it.

Great Grey Shrike, Roydon Common
The path veered round to the left and skirted the edge of the wet boggy heath. A quick scan of some distant saplings gave me my first view of the Great Grey Shrike.

After being passed by an old couple and their small rat like dog and I scanned again for the Shrike which has now crossed the path and is now perched on top of a bare tree on the crest of the hill to our right. From here it seems to be "flycatching" sallying forth into the heather at regular intervals before returning to the tree presumably not with a lizard in this cold weather.

One sally took the Shrike away over the low rise of the heather clad hill and into the top of another small tree. This time we were able to get a little closer and no1 son was able to get a look at his first Great Grey Shrike through my old Nikon ED Spotting Scope.

After a quick snack, we followed the Shrike back in the direction of the car park and left it perched in the same distant tree we'd seen it in earlier.

As we walked to the car park discussing how far we'd walked and the name of the Common and of the bird, a couple of elderly female birders paused to say hallo and point out to us the Thrush flock we'd seen earlier. Having exchanged pleasantries and ascertained that they were after "our" Shrike no 1 son left them with the wise parting advice that should not try to get too close to the Shrike in case they disturbed it.

Back at the car we get out of our wellies and try and zig zag a route out of the car parkaround th pot holes and back onto the tarmac.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Scoters and a Rough Leg

The normally bustling car park at Lady Anne's Drive is empty save a few early morning dog walkers 4x4's. Even the wild geese that normally throng the fields either side of the drive are absent. Heading north through the pines I hear the calls of newly arrived Redwings.  Holkham Bay is empty and I trudge across the sand and out through the broad gap in the dunes to the sea. Here I set up my scope and set about scanning for my quarry the flock of Common and Velvet Scoter which I am hoping will contain a Surf Scoter that has been reported here.

Empty early morning Holkham Bay
The flock is a way offshore and even using my telescope I have to concentrate hard to pick out the less common Velvet Scoters in amongst the Commons. Other birds come and go in my peripheral vision as I try and remain focused on the search for the Surf Scoter, Great Crested Grebes  and Cormorants appear and then disappear as they dive under the grey waves. Some indistinct white shapes that had been bobbing around in the distance beyond the Scoter flock take form and are revealed to be Gannets, a splendid male Goldeneye joins the flock just as two male Eiders fly by and a female Red Breasted Merganser bobs on the waves.

A male Velvet Scoter has me going for a moment but as soon as I look at him properly I realise my mistake. I scan to the west where more Scoter as sitting on the sea too far away for me to be able to see them well enough to tell which species they are. As I pan the scope a grebe comes into my field of view and is instantly recognisable as a rather smart winter plumage Slavonian Grebe.

Cold and hungry with my £3 for two hours car parking nearly up I have one last scan and head back to the car.

Just east of Burnham Overy Staithe I pull to the side of the A149 and join another birder who is scanning intently through his scope. I ask if he's "had any joy" and he understand my question and let's me look through his scope so that I can get a line on a rather drab Rough Legged Buzzard. I set up and the bird relocates to a more distant small tree. After about 10 minutes it fly's low and fast over the ground, pounces on something in the grass and returns to its perch. In the distance over the belt of pines that lie between us and the north sea four distant Common Buzzards tangle with a passing Red Kite.

Holkham Marsh, squint really hard and there is a wet Rough Legged Buzzard in the middle of this picture, honest
Taking one last look at the Rough Leg and a couple of Barnacle Geese that are mixed in with the Pink Feet I pack my scope away and head for home.