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.

Friday, 24 July 2015

July - birds and butterflies

Although it seemed to start slowly as its gone on July hasn't been a bad month for birding and wildlife watching.

As ever at this time of year I am mindful that the Swifts that in so many ways are synonymous with summer will be on the verge of leaving us for another year shortly after the schools round here break for the summer holidays. So during my regular evening walks around the block I have tried to count the local Swifts, always a tricky proposition but by standing on Hunstanton's Recreation Ground I have managed a couple of counts on Wednesday 15th July I counted c 47 Swifts and the following evening 35 from here. Last night [the 23rd] there seemed to be fewer Swifts and I detected a certain indefinable urgency about the packs that remained as they careered through the air above Hunstantons' residential streets.

Peacock butterfly, Ken Hill Wood
Lunchtime walks in Ken Hill Woods near Snettisham are always a bit hit and miss, if the weather is too nice the and the dog walkers are out there is a noticeable drop in the amount of wildlife on view as the dogs and their owners sanitise an area either side of the path of snakes, deer etc. Still on the 17th I saw a Silver Washed Fritillary patrolling a ride and occasionally settling although never long enough for me to take a picture and it disappeared the moment the sun went behind a cloud. Also flying were some White Admirals and a few wonderfully fresh looking Peacocks. The highlight though were two Grass Snakes my first of the year on the ride that skirts the woods southern boundary I even managed to catch one for a closer [and smellier look]. The walk was topped off with nice views of Muntjac and Green Woodpecker.
Black Tailed Godwits, Snettisham

Brown Hare Snettisham
On Saturday 18th I got a call in the morning about a Broad Billed Sandpiper in the wader roost at Snettisham, family commitments meant I couldn't go and look for the bird until the evening tide. I spent a pleasant hour in the hide looking through the large flock of Black Tailed Godwits bit the Broad Billed Sandpiper didn't show. Nonetheless I had a great time photographing terns against the pink twilight sky on the old jetty and had the place to myself.

Oystercatcher at dusk, Snettisham
Terns at dusk, Snettisham
The next morning I had another phone call letting me know the bird was back and this time i could make a mad dash to the southern pit where I joined a few folk, the bird was hidden behind a Black Tailed Godwit and a Knot, eventually it moved and I enjoyed great views for all of about five seconds before the whole roost spooked and it disappeared, at this stage the hide was begining to creak at the seams as more and more birders arrived and I left. On both visits I saw and heard Med Gulls.
The "Gallery" for the Snettisham Broad Billed Sandpiper
Adult Med Gull, Snettisham
A rare treat on the evening of Wednesday 22nd July a week day evening at Titchwell, I got no further than Island Hide where I must have spent an hour and a half. The Marsh was stiff with birds with several hundred Avocets present and good numbers of Black Tailed Godwits plus Ruff and Dunlin, single Greenshank, Whimbrel, Common Sandpiper and a couple of Curlew Sandpipers. Overcast when I arrived the sun broke through and for a short while I had a wonderful combination of great light and close birds including some stunning summer plumaged Black Tailed Godwits. The birds on the Fresh Marsh were quite jumpy and eventually the cause a large female Sparrowhawk showed itself and then later a Hobby shot though. Other birds  included juvenile Bearded tits on the edge of the reedbed and a couple of juvenile Marsh Harrier. But the best bird was a wonderful summer plumaged Little Gull that came really close to the hide.

Adult Little Gull, Titchwell
Black Tailed Godwit, Titchwell

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Quick round up for June and early July

A very quick run through of a few sightings in June and early July.

Sunday 7th June
Painted Lady butterflies, at least six around Hunstanton, perhaps in the vanguard of the invasion predicted for this summer.

Painted Lady
Thursday 11th June
A Hummingbird Hawkmoth in our Hunstanton front garden.

Saturday 13th June
Evening visit to Titchwell at the end of a wet and grey day. Little Gull 12, Spoonbill 1, Cuckoo 2 - 3, Sparrowhawk 1, Black Tailed Godwit c 200, Marsh Harrier 1, Bearded Tits and Cetti's Warblers heard.
Little Gulls at Titchwell

Sunday 14th June
Lady Anne's Drive Holkham with the family.
At least 5 Spoonbills hanging around the pool by the Cormorant colony, also heard Cetti's and saw a couple of Marsh Harriers

Titchwell Spoonbill
Thursday 25th June
A lunch time walk in Ken Hill Woods
Only sighting of note was when I 'phished' a Tit flock and pulled in a couple of Marsh Tits.
Marsh Tit, Ken Hill Wood
Saturday 28th June
Sitting in our tiny back garden in Hunstanton idly looking at the Swifts a Hobby shot through our small window of sky and was gone in a matter of seconds, a nice garden tick. Went for a walk that evening and had a nice Painted Lady down Chapel Bank.Very warm.

Friday 3rd July
A work walk and talk around Snettisham early morning, lovely and warm notable birds were and Eider sitting on the beach, a Turtle Dove that landed briefly in a bush, a nice black summer plumaged Spotted Redshank and several Med Gulls. The shingle flora of Yellow Horned Poppy, Vipers Bugloss and Stonecrop looked great.
Yellow Horned Poppy's Snettisham

Eider, Snettisham

Turtle Dove, Snettisham

Med Gulls, Snettisham

A quick lunchtime stroll the same day in Ken Hill Wood saw me find my first White Admirals of the year. Back in the village good to see House Martins still coming to the muddy puddle we have kept going for them and to hear the constant chirruping of House Sparrows.
House Martins, Snettisham
That evening I had my highest Hunstanton Swift count of the Summer with 4- to 45 over Glebe House School.

Saturday 4th July
Another Nightjarring visit to Dersingham Bog, very warm [20+C] and still, hence very bad for Mossies and Midges. Reasonable Nightjar display, plus 3 Woodcock, some Stonechats, a reeling Grasshopper Warbler and a couple of Glow Worms.
Nightjar, Dersingham Bog

Sunday 5th July
A family morning on the beach, involving me having my first sea swim of the year. Offshore good numbers of fishing and calling Sandwich Terns. In the dunes around the beach huts a Common Lizard and a few Small Heath butterflies. Nice to see a Thick Kneed Beetle sitting in a Sea Bindweed flower.
Sandwich Tern, Brancaster

Thick Kneed Beetle on Sea Bindweed, Brancaster

Saturday, 27 June 2015


I don't think that I have many annual rituals, but each summer I like to try and find the time to do two things. Swim in the sea between the dunes on Brancaster beach and Scolt Head Island and lie on my back listening to the Terns as they fly overhead. And spending at least one Summers evening down on Dersingham Bog as the sun sets and the light fades from the sky to look for Nightjars and listen to their Churring and buzzing song and wing clapping displays.

Nightjar, Dersingham Bog
Like most landscapes be they the London parks I used to birdwatch in as a kid, or the Norfolk coast and countryside that I live in now, Dersingham Bog takes on a wilder more natural air as darkness descends and people fade out of the landscape.

As I pull up and park in my usual spot and notice that the cars thermometer says it is still 17.5 C at. 9pm, I expect it will be midgy and quietly regret my lack of insect repellent.

The walk down onto the bog takes me through a tunnel of conifers and Rhododendrons, then along the edge of an ancient cliff with a view over the top of a carpet of conifers out to The Wash. I can see a couple hanging around the boardwalk and another trio of birders further along the path. Figuring that I might have to wait up to an hour for the Nightjars to appear I decide to make use of the time and walk out along the undulating and twisting sandy path that skirts the edge of the bog. At 9.37 I hear my first churring Nightjar its song carrying to me from the far side of the bog. Then a Gropper starts to reel away out of view but much closer to me. The distant Nightjar goes quiet and I enjoy another  ten minutes strolling further out across the Bog. Then at about ten to ten they start in earnest, I hear wing clapping and churring and a couple of birds fly over my head chasing each other. The churring to my left is really loud and I eventually pick out a Nightjar on a horizontal pine branch maybe twenty feet away.

Nightjars, Dersingham Bog
The light is fading fast now and I crank up my camera too its highest ISO setting. The flight shots aren't great but I get some OK images of a perched bird. A different call draws my attention to a couple of Woodcock flying over the trees.

Heading back the way I came I try and figure how many Nightjars I've seen or heard and guess somewhere between 10 and 15 birds, as I chew on this pleasing thought, a Tawny Owl starts to call from the edge of the Woods. A quick loop of the Boardwalk yields a brace of bright green Glowworm bums. Back up the hill to the sound of Nightjars and the scent coming off the bracken leaves seems more intense in the dark. Back in my car I give the Midge bites around my neck a good scratch and head home.