Sunday, 6 March 2016

A storm lit Peregrine

Yesterday was a cold day with grey sky's and a northerly wind blowing in frequent icy showers. Also a family day with kids swimming lessons and meals to prepare and supervise. But just after 4.30pm I felt a need to experience a bit of wildness and so I seized the opportunity offered by a gap in the weather for a walk under Hunstanton cliffs. 

When I got down onto the beach the first thing that struck me was the large numbers of slightly flighty Oystercatcher's feeding among the boulders on the tide line, these were noticeably focused on eating bivalves and I saw several with mussels and winkles in their beaks. 

Oystercatcher's Hunstanton Beach
As I watched the Oystercatcher's, Fulmar's like stiff winged crosses, glided effortlessly over the sea and across the face of the cliffs they will soon be nesting on.
Looking north along Hunstanton Cliffs and into the approaching storm

A curtain of rain back lit by the setting sun hung across the Lincolnshire shoreline of The Wash. To my north a slate grey sky gave an electric light to the horizon. And it was cold enough for me to be wearing gloves and swap my baseball cap for a warmer fleece hat.

An insouciant dog walker passed with his hounds which flushed the feeding waders and a small party of Brent Geese, creating for a moment or two a wheeling wind blown confusion of wings and bird calls. Looking up the grey sky to my north seemed closer. 

As the shorebirds settled I stood on a low boulder and picked out the unmistakable cigar shape of a Peregrine coming up from the south and over the sea heading towards me.  In the storm light as it powered its way into the wind effortlessly ahead of the ineffectually mobbing Herring Gulls its body glistened like Mercury.  

Then with the sun below the horizon and the storm upon me came the darkness and accompanying cold sharp rain.

The waters of The Wash and the sky above me were by now similar shades of dark battleship grey, the northerly wind on its own would have been bitterly cold but now this was amplified by the driving ice cold rain that was hitting me in the face. I'd had and savoured my wild moment and now I turned and strode with the wind at my back for home. 

The storm over me, Hunstanton Beach

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Winter sunshine on Titchwell and Roydon

Thursday 18th February, had a great day in the field.

If I have a problem with Titchwell Marsh it is that I know it so well, I have been visiting this site on the north Norfolk coast ever since I moved to Norfolk in the late 90's and sometimes it is difficult to see the place with fresh eyes, I know where the Woodcock will be, where to look for a Water Rail when to expect the Avocet flock to start building in late winter and so on. So visiting with my young family is a great chance to slow down and try and see the place through the eyes of two small boys one aged six and the other four.
Water Rail at Titchwell, Panasonic Lumix TZ30
Last Thursday was a great opportunity to do just this. The boys, my wife and I arrived mid morning and walked from the car park to the beach and back. It was a beautiful, crisp blue sky day, perfect for walking and any birds would be a bonus. As we hit the start of the West Bank path I noticed a couple of birders staring intently into an overgrown ditch a pretty good sign that a Water Rail was showing and sure enough there was one feeding out in the open and both boys were able to see this only six feet away and without binoculars. As one old boy said to them you're really lucky I had to wait 40 years to see one [not sure if he meant 40 years of age or 40 years of birding].

As the path leaves the wet woodland it skirts the edge of the reed bed and a series of small pools and ditches. Just ahead of the family I picked up a Kingfisher flying into a sallow and was able to set the scope up on it. Amazingly it sat there for several minutes allowing both kids to get good views of it. The Kingfisher even hovered over the pool for us.
Kingfisher at Titchwell, hand held Panasonic Lumix TZ30 through a Kowa 883
After a visit to the beach we walked back to the car stopping for no1 son to admirea very close Black Tailed Godwit and then back in the wood by the car park I stopped with no2 son who was transfixed by one of the very tame and approachable Robins.

Later that afternoon having dropped the family off at home I popped down to Roydon Common for the Harrier roost. The car park was as full as I have ever seen it and about 40 folk stood on the path that runs along the southern edge of the depression that makes up the middle of the Common. Whilst we waited for the Harriers to come into roost I searched for whatever else was on show, this was hard work but I did manage a couple of common Buzzards in a dead tree, a distant hunting Barn Owl and half a dozen Roe Deer.

Then as the heat left the afternoon as the sun dropped behind the hill to our rear the first ring tailed Hen Harrier drifted in across the common. A little later the bird we'd all been waiting for appeared a Pallid Harrier although always distant it gave great scope views as it flew over the browns and yellows of the common and the backdrop of fringing bare branched silver birches, and would perch on a fence post for minutes at a time. At one stage it spent a minute or two chasing and being chased first by a Hen Harrier and then by a Carrion Crow and at one point put up a Jack Snipe from a wet patch.
Pallid Harrier hand held Panasonic Lumix TZ30 through a Kowa TZ30
As the light started to ease away more Hen Harriers drifted int and I saw at least three perhaps four ringtails and there was still time for more birds to come into roost when I left with cold hands and feet.
Roydon Common at Twilight, Panasonic Lumix TZ30

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Rough Legs in the Gloom

The rain eased off mid afternoon and I managed to get out in the car for a quick drive to do an errand in Brancaster Staithe via a couple of birding sites. From Hunstanton I took the back road past Courtyard Farm and whilst I didn't find any Little Owls a large mixed flock of Corn Buntings and Yellowhammers was good value.
Crap Rough Legged Buzzard picture

I turned north up Chalkpit Lane and stopped before the summit of the hill. I quickly got distance views of a Rough Legged Buzzard and after a few minutes I was watching two birds "tumble" along the hedgerow in the distance, one bird flying up into a bare tree to be followed shortly afterwards by the second birds, I couldn't work out his this was a pair of birds bonding, fighting over territory or a bit of pre-roost socialising. Eventually they went their separate ways and I managed some very grainy " record shots" which I have heavily manipulated on the computer to get anything even vaguely usable.
An another
From here I swung down into Brancaster Staithe Harbour and had a pleasant ten minutes with the long staying Red Necked Grebe which was joined by a trio of Red Breasted Mergansers. As the light faded and the ISO setting on my camera got cranked ever higher I tore myself away and headed for my errand in Brancaster and then home.

Red necked Grebe

Red Breasted Mergansers

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Twite in Thornham Harbour

Been feeling a bit pre-occupied of late and so it was great to be able to get out for an hour and a half this afternoon and spend sometime on my own at Thornham Harbour. I chose to visit Thornham because I figured it would be less buy than many other spots on the coast and that I'd hopefully jam into either the wintering flock of Twite or perhaps a Hen Harrier.

Almost as soon as I got out of the car I heard the distinctive sound of a small flock of Twite flying around in a bouncing flock low over the saltmarsh. They quickly settled and I was able to get good scope views. Although a little flighty I was with patience able to get some great scope views and these showed a number of birds wearing colour rings, I didn't have time today to note these down.

My digi-scoping kit is a little archaic a quarter century plus Nikon ED Spotting Scope and Panasonic Lumix TZ30 camera that I set to macro zoom. In the low winter light this afternoon I really struggled to get any usable shots, by upping the ISO I could freeze the action but at the cost of some very grainy images. I got one shot that was slightly better than the rest and I have copied this below.

A couple  stopped and asked what the flock of small brown birds I was looking at were and I explained they were Twite a species they'd never heard of, but a look through the scope had them drawing comparison with Buntings and Finches that they did know.

I realised that I had lost track of time and I wasn't even sure if I had my phone with me or if I did which pocket it was in. My visit had worked I'd got into the zone of birding and digiscoping and for an hour or so not thought about the things that had been weighing on my mind. Just what the doctor might have ordered.

Thornham Harbour and its surrounding saltings looked great, a real classic north Norfolk winter scene with large number of loafing gulls on the exposed beach intermingled with Brent Geese, the browns of the the saltings varying from almost bronze ands gold to dark muddy brown and the old coal barn and fishing boats showing the influence of man on this landscape. In the distance towards Titchwell I could see a Barn Owl hunting on raised cream wings over the swaying washed out heads of last summers reeds. Time to go home.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Beached Sperm Whale, Hunstanton

Sometimes we get messages where what we are being told leaves us incredulous but our trust in the sender of the information makes us sit up and pay attention. Friday afternoon I received one such message, a short text from my friend Dave telling me that four Sperm Whales were close inshore at Hunstanton and possibly stuck. 

A quick call to Dave left me little the wiser other than that he was on his way to check out the sighting. A colleague and I hit Google and found several references to a report of Sperm Whales off Hunstanton, weird. Having got confirmation from Dave that there was something in this report I left work a little early and had an urgent drive in traffic from Snettisham to Hunstanton, with nothing more to go on I thought I'd try under the cliffs at the pitch and putt end of the cliffs and wasted valuable time walking the beach on an incoming tide here. Back and the car and with phone reception again I got a message from Dave to head to the Salad Bowl cafe and I arrived here at twilight's last knockings.

Watching the last hours of a Bull Sperm Whale, Hunstanton, Friday 22 January 2016

A crowd was assembled on top of the cliffs and on the promenade below where a search light was focused on the whale. At first I couldn't see the whale until I realised that what I had taken to be a buoy was in fact its bloodied tail. Through my binoculars I could start to make out the line of its back below the surface and every now and again it would exhale a misty breath through its blow hole. It had not been alone another three Sperm Whales and also be in trouble in the shallows but had managed to swim away on the tide. At the time as I watched the tide was peaking and about to start to drain away.
Approaching the dead Sperm Whale, Saturday 23 January 2016
Blood in the rock pools

Later that evening I walked the short way from our house back to the base of the cuffs, I could see lights in the dark of the beach and by the steps down to the beach was a Coastguard truck with flashing lights on and tape across the steps. The Coastguard told me that the beach had been closed to allow the whale some peace and that there were various folk out there trying to help it.

After lunch today and knowing already that the whale had died over night, a pretty predictable if sad turn over events as these great Levianthan can't survive long without water to support their huge body weight. I took number two son [age four] to see the whale [no one son was tired and had seen a previous stranded whale in Hunstanton. The little fella was dead excited and on first seeing the Whales body told me that it was "Huge" and wanted to know why it was dead. He then noticed the red stained water in the rock pools and was fascinated by this. 

ZSL vets perform an autopsy
We were not alone, the whales corpse was taped off and security guards in florescent yellow coast had been on site since 7.30 that morning to guard the corpse [the last whales lower jaw had been chainsawed off so that it teeth could be sold on the black market]. Within the taped area vets from ZSL worked hard carrying out a autopsy in a race against the returning tide and ironically a procedure which also involved removing the whales lower jawbone.
Whilst we were there i doubt if there was ever less than a hundred people gathered around the tape, carrying out a very modern form of animal spirit worship arms held in front of them towards the dead whale and smart phone cameras capturing the essence of its spirit to share with friends.

Paying homage
Capturing the dead Levianthan's spirit
I've been trying to work out if this is my third or fourth dead Sperm Whale in the 16 / 17 years I have lived in Norfolk and I think it is the fourth, I need to double check. Weird how these deep sea cetaceans end up in the shallow waters of the North Sea and then into the Wash?

One for scale

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Red Necked Grebe, Brancaster Staithe

The strong winds of the last few days were starting to ease a little this morning and I decided to combine a errand in Brancaster with a visit to the harbour in Brancaster Staithe to look for the  Red Necked Grebe that had been reported here. Joined by no1 son [age 6] I drove down as close to the edge of the water as I dared and practically the first bird I saw was the Grebe fishing in the channel to the west of the harbour. I wasn't able to stay long and the bird never came close enough for great photographic opportunities so this heavily cropped record shot is the best I managed in the ten to fifteen minutes we spent with the bird.

Red Necked Grebe, Brancaster Staithe

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.