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.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Woodpecker and Sparrowhawk encounter

Autumn leaves going from gold to brown

The single note call of a Great Spotted Woodpecker cuts through the quiet of the winter woodland, I don't bother to lift my binoculars but scan for the bird with my eyes. As I do so I pick up on a fast moving form sliding with barely a wing beat through the tangle of bare branches in the canopy, its broad winged arrow coalesces before me as a monochrome winter silhouette, its small size and shape give it away as a male Sparrowhawk that, no sooner have I identified it, than it has gone, down the slope weaving its way through the tops of the trees. The Woodpecker stops calling and the wood falls quiet again.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

A Shrike and the return of the wild geese

Tuesday 23rd September
Early evening and stopped at the traffic lights by Norfolk Lavender in Heacham when a Barn Owl carrying prey flew over Docking Road presumably to a late brood.

Wednesday 24th

Lunchtime walk around Ken Hill Woods was enlivened by a Kettle of 6 Common Buzzards over the top of hill in the middle of the woods.

Grey Squirrel, Ken Hill
Friday 26th
Another lunchtime walk through Ken Hill Woods and good to bump into a mixed flock with Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Goldcrest, Blue, Great, Coal, Marsh and Long Tailed Tits.

Sunday 5th October
A quiet walk along the Brancaster to Brancaster Staithe boardwalk, had 4 Buzzards circling overhead, a single male kestrel, the biggest flock of newly returned Brent Geese contained 80 birds, also several Little Egrets, a Cetti's Warbler 1 calling by NT Branodunum in reed saltings, several Bearded Tits heard calling above the reeds by Brancaster Staithe, two Goldcrest in garden by the National Trust Branodunum field and a Red Admiral.

Wednesday 8th October
A night time walk around the block in Hunstanton turned up sighting of a Tawny Owl when one flew across the A149 by the recreation ground.

Thursday 9th October

Managed to use a little flexitime to leave work early and got to Burnham Norton for 5 pm to look for the Steppe Great Grey Shrike. This duly disappeared for a couple of minutes when I arrived before working its way down the side of a ditch by perching on fence posts, eventually it flew into a Hawthorn by the side of the path only to be flushed back into the middle of the grazing marsh as a 'surge' of birders and photographers spooked it. Was still able to watch it through the scope feeding, presumably of insects. Good to get a Norfolk and UK tick.
Steppe Great Grey Shrike, Burnham Norton
Friday 10th October
Another lunchtime boot around Ken Hill Woods and another nice mixed flock with Goldcrest, Blue, Great, Coal, Long Tailed and Marsh tits. In the late autumn sunshine Peacock, Red Admiral, Comma and a White sp.

Sunday 12th October
Walking through the cold thick fog across the car park to the Oasis swimming pool in Hunstanton for my early morning swim there was a cacophony of bird calls coming from the roof of the pool where there were perched a couple of hundred starlings, presumably enjoying the heat rising from the pool underneath.

Brancaster Boardwalk
A single Cetti's Warbler in tidal reeds, a kingfisher flew calling over the big tidal creek, and a female Blackcap fed in an overgrown orchard in one of the gardens backing onto NT Branodunum.

Brancaster Staithe and Thornham Harbours

Pink Feet
Driving home with no1 son we stopped for ten minutes in the harbour to watch a couple of Cormorants feeding in the channel at low tide whilst Pinkies & Brents flew overhead. Then we had a quick explore of Thornham Harbour where I managed to see another Kingfisher, three Marsh Harriers, and up to four Rock Pipits.
Rock Pipit
Hunstanton Beach
Managed to get half an hour on the beach late afternoon it was relatively quiet with lots of Herring and Black Headed Gulls and the odd Great Black Backed and Common Gulls, Oystercatchers and Bar Tailed Godwits were the commonest waders. I rather like this picture of a juvenile Herring Gull with people walking on the beach in the background mirroring the Gulls own purposeful stride.

Juvenile Herring Gull

Monday, 29 September 2014

Thinking about Tiger's

Following a recent visit to Banham Zoo in Norfolk where along with one of my little boys we saw their Siberian Tigers and some news pieces on London Zoo's 'Tiger Territory' I've been thinking a little about Tigers.

Siberian Tiger, Banham Zoo, Norfolk
In 1794 William Blake wrote his immortal lines

"Tyger Tyger, burning bright, / In the forests of the night; / What immortal hand or eye, / Could frame thy fearful symmetry"

More recently in 1968 Judith Kerr wrote and illustrated the children's classic 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea', in which a large, vividly orange and black striped tiger visits a small girl and her mother and precedes to eat them out of house and home.

Both are manifestations of the degree to which these enigmatic big cats have permeated the culture of a country many thousands of miles outside their natural range.

And yet at the same time that we have eulogised tigers in poetry and prose and co-opted them to sell everything from petrol to sugary cereals, we have also driven the species to the very edge of extinction in the wild, through over hunting of their prey, habitat loss, and the hunting of the tigers themselves. Indeed we have lost forever the Japanese, Caspian and Javan races of tiger and the Chinese race may not be far behind them in fading from the face of the Earth.

In 21st century London a small girl turns wide eyed to her teacher and says "You never told us they were real". This child until then had never realised that something as magical could burn so bright in her world, somewhere beyond the garish CGI landscape of children's computer games, books and television.  Like many before her she had been awe-struck by a life force bundled up in a living and breathing blanket of fiery orange and black fur, that emits the over powering charisma and sheer attitude of a Tiger.

Siberian Tiger, Banham Zoo, Norfolk
Her first Tiger experience came at London Zoo, where last year the Zoo opened its new 'Tiger Territory', home to their pair of Sumatran Tigers. Critically endangered in the wild and at risk of going the same way that their Caspian and Javan cousins have already done. There is a real risk that the descendants of  these adopted Cockney Tigers will one day have no wild cousins and perhaps no wild for their descendants to return too.

Tigers do well in Zoo's, they breed freely, too freely perhaps as Zoo's have finite space. But just as humans who have known nothing but modern city living have little in common with their hunter gatherer ancestors and whilst living longer, healthier lives would not have the skills to survive in the wild. So too captive bred Tigers do not have the store of cultural knowledge of a wild home range learned from their mother in their formative years. Or over the generations the brutal pressures of natural selection passing on the genes of the Tigers best adapted to a life in whatever wild there is left.

So, much as modern urban man's basic DNA is the same as that of our hunter gatherer forebears, so too is the DNA of these Zoo Tigers the same as that of their wild cousins and yet both we and the Tigers would struggle to go back to our respective wilds.

Does the loss of this cultural learning matter for tigers? I couldn't practice the hunter gatherer skills of my ancestors but the chances are, I hope, that I will live a longer, healthier and probably happier life. Is the same the case for captive tigers? Where could you release them back into the wild anyway?

Perhaps it is hoped or assumed that we will one day be able to find a way of giving captive bred tigers the store of knowledge and experience they need to lead a wild life.

So if reintroducing zoo bred tigers to the wild is a long shot because there may not be sufficient wild left and even if there is equipping tigers to survive in it may be beyond us. Does beg the question what is the point of keeping tigers in Zoo's? Well firstly we have them and we can either keep them well or euthanize them. But also I think that there are two more fundamental drivers hope and inspiration.

As the little girl at London Zoo showed, Tigers inspire wonderment and awe in the natural world and from this can come hope. Hope that maybe just maybe we can save the wild places that tigers call home and with that a hope that future generations will be able to know the frison of walking through wild tiger country or perhaps just having the satisfaction of knowing that somewhere out there such places exist inhabited by Tyger's burning bright in the forests of the night.