Sunday, 21 September 2014

Vagrants and colonists from the east

Wednesday 17th September
I had to work late into the evening, so I treated myself to a morning walk out to Burnham Overy Dunes, I knew that there had been a few goodies here the day before but I set out more in hope than expectation.

First stop was the reed fringed pool and despite giving it a long hard look over I couldn't find the Black Necked Grebe that had been present, the effort I put in wasn't wasted as I found a Green Sandpiper and had my first Pinkies of the winter, six flying overhead their distinctive "wink, wink" calls as they flew giving them away, their arrival as sure a marker of the changing seasons and autumns inexorable slide into winter, as the first swifts screaming through the air in late Spring herald the dawn of summer.

A passing birder told me that a Yellow Browed Warbler was showing, so I quickened my pace. On arrival I was told that a Red Breasted Flycatcher was on view and as I lifted my binoculars a Pied Flycatcher popped onto the wires of the fence below me.

Red Breasted Flycatcher, Burnham Overy Dunes

Whilst waiting for the Yellow Browed Warbler I added Garden Warbler, Whinchat and Wheatear to my mornings tally. At last the Yellow Browed showed well if briefly, it is always a treat to see one of these birds that bring to mind associations with scrappy bits of scrub and woodland on the east coast of England in autumn and also of winter birding trips I made to Asia many years ago. Here I also saw a single Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat in the same binocular field of view. It was at this point it became apparent that there were two Red Breasted Flycatchers present. one of which worked its way along the fence in front of me and at one point was maybe 6 feet away, it really was classic east coast autumn birding.

With time pressing and a long car journey ahead of me to a meeting in Essex I dragged myself away from what had been a top mornings spotting.

Thursday 18th September
Got home not much before midnight on the 17th and up and out the house in good time this morning to catch the train to London for another meeting. My route in London takes me on a short and enjoyable walk through Green Park and St James's Park. The Parks were very busy with tourists enjoying the fine autumn weather. Time was tight but I paused for a moment on the bridge over the lake in St James's Park, looking into the clear water I could see a huge shoal of Perch and Rudd, the Perch are easy to Identify with their vertical barring, the Rudd are less obvious but my friend The Grumpy Ecologist tells me that they "Look like Rudd - bright red fins, mouth has longer lower lip (rather than roman nose and long top lip of roach)".
Rudd and Perch, St James's Park Lake.
Ring Necked Parakeet in Indian Bean Tree, St James's Park

Once across the bridge I was further distracted by the distinctive call of a Ring Necked Parakeet from some mature trees just off the path, after a little searching through their large densely packed green leaves, I spotted a couple of well camouflaged birds feeding on the seed pods of what was a large Indian Bean Tree, for such dayglo green birds it's amazing how they blend in.

On Googling this behaviour at home it is clear that London's Ring Necked Parakeets regularly exploit this food source and observers who have had more time to observe this suggest that they are feeding on the pulp not the seeds. Interesting how a tree from the Americas and a bird from Asia have come together in the man made habitat of central London.

Friday 19th September
A busy day in the office in Snettisham, but had a quick 20 minute stomp through Ken Hill Woods and bumped into a large mixed feeding flock including several each of Treecreeper, Goldcrest, and Coal Tit.

Saturday 20th September
Holme Church from Holme Marsh
A busy morning, first I went swimming, then I shot home got no1 son and took him for his swimming lesson, finally I had 90 minutes spare and opted for a walk around Holme Marsh on the grounds that its less than 10 minutes drive from home, not many folk go there, there are lots of birds about and therefore I might have a chance of finding something good. The last part of this line of logic is where it fell apart, Holme Marsh was nice but quiet, still I did find Chiff Chaff 4, Blackcap 2, Wheatear 1, Marsh Harrier 3 and as ever the Konik Ponies were photogenic.
Konik Ponies, Holme Marsh

Sunday 21st September

A quick visit to Titchwell more to buy some bird food than to go spotting, a cold north wind was keeping passerines down but I did manage to pick out three distant Little Stints on the Fresh Marsh and three different Chinese Water Deer around the reserve. At home a couple of skeins of Pink Footed Geese totalling maybe 40 birds flew over calling as I put out the washing.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Brief encounter with a Norfolk Fox

Note below a direct transcript of the lines I scribbled in the notebook whilst watching this Fox in Brancaster.

Ben a while since i had the luck to spend any time watching a fox. This one seemed small, sleek and in good condition. Classic russet [Red Panda coloured] body, dark blackish tail and a shining / glowing white tip to its tail [like a Tigers].

Fox in twilight, Brancaster
In the rapidly fading twilight it exuded suppleness and energy as it hunted a yellow field of scrappy overgrown grass. Arching its back as it paused , face, eyes, ears and muzzle pointed down. Then springing into the air and landing as it pounced on a vole.

Fox pouncing
One unfortunate Vole / Mouse was tossed forwards by the Fox two or three times.

After 20 minutes in its company it moved away towards some trees and into longer, thicker grass. Got a sense it was aware of me and would take in my presence as it looked around.

Fox, Brancaster

Mid August to Mid September catch up - things are moving

Fells like a long and fun summer since we returned from holiday in Yorkshire, notes below a quick summary of what I've seen.

Monday 18 August , Thorpe Marshes NWT [Norwich]
A short lunchtime walk, managed single Sparrowhawk and Green woodpecker and four Swifts in amongst the House Martins.
NWT Thorpe Marshes

Wednesday 20th, Holme Beach
Picked two rt three Arctic Skuas whilst playing with the kids on the beach.

Friday 22nd, Titchwell Creek
Quiet, with only three Common Seals hauled out, not helped by loose dogs swimming in the creek. Heard Avocet, Whimbrel and Greenshank
Common Seals at Titchwell Creek

Sunday 24th
Inland of Titchwell a single Hobby over the car.

In and around Brancaster
Single Swift and Sparrowhawk
At dusk a hunting Fox and Daubentons Bats over the marsh

Monday 25th Titchwell Marsh
I set myself a target of finding 50 species in two very wet hours and crept in on 51 species, few highlights in awful weather included Golden Plovers, Spotted Redshank and Bearded Tits.
The way onto Titchwell Beach

Tuesday 26th
Perhaps the same Fox in Brancaster this time after dark on the Branodunum housing estate

Thursday 28th, Titchwell Marsh
A short, productive evening walk with a Great White Egret, 12 Spoonbills, six Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard, Greenshank, five Spotted Redshank's, three juvenile Curlew Sandpipers, a Cetti's Warbler, one Swift, two Muntjac and a single Chinese Water Deer.
Chinese Water Deer, Titchwell Fresh Marsh

Friday 29th, Holme Beach
Intermittent seawatching whilst playing with the kids, found a single Arctic Skua, Gannet 2, Fulmar 3, Wigeon 4, Common Scoter 1, Sandwich Terns and a Common Seal.

In the evening a Fox in Branodunum [Brancaster]

Saturday 30th, Brancaster Saltings and adjacent scrub and gardens
Swift 1, Pied flycatcher 1 female and nearby a Wild Bee nest.
On way home a pair pf Bullfinches flew across the road through Courtyard Farm [Ringstead].
Wild Bee's nest, Brancaster

Wednesday 3 September
Great views of a perched Kingfisher during a work visit to Fen Drayton Lakes [Cambs]

Saturday 6th, Titchwell Marsh
Little stint 2 juveniles, Curlew Sandpiper 3 juveniles, Spoonbill 6.
Juvenile Common Sandpipers, Titchwell Marsh

Thursday 11th, Titchwell Marsh
Curlew Sandpiper 3 juveniles, Greenshank 1, Spotted Redshank 2, Hobby 1, Stonechat 1, Wheatear 1.
After dark in Hunstanton heard a Whimbrel flying over.

Saturday 13th, Titchwell Marsh
Very quiet in the bird front but a nice Stoat ran across the West Bank path.

Sunday 14th, Holmne Beach
Arctic skua 1 - 3, Bonxie 1, Gannet 12 - 14, Sandwich Terns still present.

Sea watching at Holme Beach

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Things to do and not to do in the Yorkshire Dales with kids.

Spent 26th July to 9th August in the Yorkshire Dales on a family holiday, we stayed in a small cottage between Hubberholme and Buckden at the top of the valley of the river Wharfe. Always nice to get a dose of the Uplands even if the birding in the Dales can be a little slow at times.
Grange Cottage near Hubberholme [left of picture]
This is an area that I know pretty well from childhood holidays and somewhere that we have visited several times with our own two young boys [aged 2 and 5]. So from the perspective of a family that likes the outdoors and wildlife here are some thoughts on things to do and maybe not do.

River Wharfe at Hubberholme

Six things to do
Go to Bolton Abbey its brilliant, great coffee and cake in the cafe, lovely buggy accessible riverside walks, pebbly beaches from which to skim stones and generally mess around in the river Wharfe and especially in the spring some great birds including Dipper, Pied Flycatcher, Redstart, Wood Warbler, Mandarin Duck, Grey Wagtail etc.
Stone circle, Langstrothdale
Visit the inspirational Chris and Fiona Clark at Nethergill Farm just south of Hawes and learn about how they are linking Farming the Environment and People, enjoy one of their home made flapjacks, see the rare white shorthorn cattle, take a walk around the farm, or perhaps stay in one of their holiday flats.
White Shorthorn, Nethergill Farm
Walk south alongside the river Wharfe from Kettlewell along one side of the river as far as the stepping stones and then come back along the opposite bank, a great stretch of river for Dippers and Kingfishers and a nice length for small kids, no good for buggy's though.
Upper reaches of River Wharfe
Drive over to Bolton Castle and find your way through the maze or wander the battlements.

Bolton Castle and maze
Catch fish and Crayfish in the River Wharfe, you can do this pretty much anywhere.

Signal Crayfish, River Wharfe

Go to Malham, enjoy the well made path that takes you out to Malham Cove where in spring and summer you can look through the RSPB telescopes at the nesting Peregrines and wander why there are three times as many nesting in London as manage to breed in the Dales. If you have the time and energy walk up the steps on the side of the cove and across to Goredale Scar and back down into Malham where you could try out the Lister Arms for lunch.

One to maybe avoid

We went to Eureka the national children's museum in Halifax and were disappointed by the long and badly managed queues to get in and to eat, the crowded exhibition space and word heavy exhibits, an expensive mistake.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

What happened to July?

Been on holiday, more on that in another post. Here's a quick update from the notebook on a few sightings from July.

Tuesday the 8th of July
A commute in and out of Norwich was enlivened by a Red Kite in the morning over the northern ring road around Fakenham, always amazing how even when driving their distinctive shape gives them away from a long way off. During a  lunchtime walk in the Rosary Cemetery it was nice to see a Muntjac and then on the way home a Common Buzzard over Sculthorpe.

Sunday 20th 
A family visit to Brancaster Beach. At the beach hut in the dunes we had great views of a resting Grayling, whilst offshore and then over the dunes 7 [but perhaps as many as 11] Arctic Skuas harassed the Sandwich Terns including one unfortunate bird that had 6 Arctic Skuas chasing it at one point. Also offshore was a single Gannet but no Little Terns.
Grayling, in the dunes behind Brancaster Beach

Noteworthy that day were screaming packs of 20 - 30 Swifts over Brancaster and Thornham and a more precise [and repeated count, but still I reckon an underestimate] 31 over the Lincoln / Boston Square are of Hunstanton

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Scorpion Fly's, autumn migrants and 72 million year old squid

A busy few weeks and although the weather has been mixed it has felt like summer with some wonderfully warm days. 

Avocet at Titchwell Marsh where they seem to be having a good breeding season.
 Saturday 21st June saw me in Holkham Park with our two small boys trying to show them Fallow Deer, this was achieved with a bit of effort as the deer seemed mostly to be lying up in the nettle beds presumably with their young. The sunshine brought out good numbers of Ringlet's and Meadow Brown butterflies here.

The following day Sunday 22nd we had a great encounter with a young Hedgehog in a Brancaster garden as it fed on the lawn in the afternoon and allowed the boys a great look at it before it disappeared into the bushes.

After work on Wednesday the 22nd I had to visit a friend who lives near North Elmham and who has two pairs of Little Owls nesting close to his house. I was lucky enough to see one of these birds on my way out.

Thursday 26th saw me heading west into Cambridgeshire to the Village of Over in the Ouse valley for a work meeting, at lunchtime I had brief views of one of my favourite British Dragonflies the Banded Demoiselle.

Saturday 28th saw me taking the boys around Ken Hill Wood in Snettisham and although this was a pretty quiet walk for wildlife in the cool air I did see some nice Ringlets sitting around waiting for the air to war up.

On Saturday afternoon I took our five year old for a walk at Titchwell, he had a lot of fun playing with my camera and asking questions about the war [sparked by some of the interpetation around the site]. Couldn't really do too much birding but nice to see a summer plumage Spotted Redshank and a Riff plus a couple of Spoonbill, highlights though were the good numbers of Avocet chicks and watching a female Marsh Harrier bringing in prey and do an aerial food pass with one of this years young. Also here was a very tatty Painted Lady.

An extremely tatty Painted Lady at Titchwell Marsh

Spotted Redshank in summer plumage at Titchwell Marsh, autumn passage underway?
Tuesday 1st July and a work meeting over coffee in a Snettisham garden was enlivened by the presence overhead of three thermalling Common Buzzards and two Sparrowhawks. Later a lunchtime  walk around Ken Hill Wood was good for butterflies with Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Red Admiral, White Admiral, Comma and what I am pretty certain was a Purple Hairstreak high up in some oaks.

White Admiral in slightly faded condition, Ken Hill Wood
Thursday 3rd another lunchtime walk in Ken hill woods and even more White Admirals and my first Grass Snake of the year, plus a Scorpion Fly one of the three species of Panorpa found in the UK.

Scorpion Fly, Panorpa sp, Ken Hill Wood

Saturday 5th July I saw my first Gatekeepers of the year in Brancaster and in the evening I had another great encounter with a young Hedgehog this time in the Sensory Garden in Hunstanton. Interesting that I have struggled to see Hedgehogs in recent years and this past few weeks I have seen two, I wonder if their numbers were hit by the run of heard winters we had ad are now starting to pickup.

Young Hedgehog, Hunsatnton Sensory Garden

Then today Sunday 6th an afternoon with the family on Hunstanton beach, very quiet for birds with a few Sandwich and Common Terns offshore and a single adult Kittiwake being the bird highlights. Whilst building piles of rocks with the kids we found some small fossils which I think are Neohibolites which were a type of Cephalopod from the Cretaceous about 72 million years ago, in other words very old and very tough calamari.

Fossil Neohibolites, Hunstanton beach

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Mid May to Mid June, Spring into Summer

Lots of catching up to do, as ever been really busy with work and family life and I've started swimming again as a way of managing my bad back, so time is even more precious than usual.

Friday 16th of May, a lunchtime walk around Ken Hill Wood was enlivened by a Cuckoo calling close by, disappointingly I didn't see any Grass Snakes despite the weather conditions being favourable.

Sunday 18 saw me on Holme Beach in the morning with the family, a lovely warm, blue sky sort of a day, offshore in the distance were three Gannets whilst closer were Little and Sandwich Terns and one or two Common Seals popped up to take a look at the beach. Mist exciting though was a brief but good view of a Broad Bordered Bee Hawkmoth that flew around my wife's hand before disappearing from view.
Common Whelk shells collected by no 1 son at Holme
In the afternoon we could hear Cuckoos calling around Brancaster and I saw a Muntjac with my 5 year old whilst teaching him to ride his bike. In the evening I spent an hour under the cliffs and had a flock of 35 Turnstones including a few with lovely white hoods.

Wednesday 21st saw me on a work visit to Fen Drayton Lakes, not a lot of time for spotting but it was good to see the Common Terns that breed here and four small Avocet chicks on an island in front of the hide.

Friday 23rd and I was at Minsmere for a work visit in between meetings and press calls for the launch of Springwatch and the Suffolk Nature Strategy I managed to see two or three Bitterns and heard several Nightingales 
Oystercatcher and Carrion Crow in dogfight over Minsmere scrape.

Friday 30th saw me walking round Courtyard Farm with my two small sons and enjoying a brief view of a Stoat on the road, a purring Turtle Dove and a brief view of a Hummingbird Hawkmoth

Saturday 31st and a family trip to Holkham where I saw a Spoonbill fly over Lady Anne's Drive

The following day Sunday 1st June Cuckoos were still calling in Brancaster and I saw a male Orangetip in the garden.

Tuesday 3rd back to Minsmere for work and a short s[ell early evening in Bittern Hide produced a couple of Hobby', three Bitterns, Cetti's Warbler, Bearded Tits and a Kingfisher. The drive home in the dark was notable for sightings of two Tawny Owls and a single Bran Owl.

Monday2nd I saw my first Sparrowhawk for a week or two flying over the car in the morning rush hour in Taverham.

Thursday 5th June, attracted by the sound of mobbing Blackbirds I left the path at Ken Hill Woods and a found a Tawny Owl being mobbed by a mixed passerine flock.

Roosting Tawny Owl, Ken Hill Wood

Friday 6th surely my last Orangetip of the year a male on the edge of Ken hill Wood, but still to see a Grass Snake there this year, very unusual. In the evening I had to drive to Oxford for a nephews birthday party and on the way saw one Red Kite, about ten Kestrels and half a dozen Buzzards plus three Dead on the Road Badgers. The children's party on the Sunday was held in Shotover Country Park and I had Kestrel, Buzzard and Red Kite overhead.

Red Kite, Shotover Country Park

8 year old's birthday party, Shotover Country Park
Wednesday 11th and I found a Lilly Beetle on the Lilly's in our back garden in Hunstanton.

Lilly Beetle, Hunstanton
Thursday 12th saw me back at Minsmere for another work visit on the last day of Springwatch, again I managed views of Hobby, Bittern, Marsh Harrier as well as some splendid flower spikes of Marsh Orchid by Island Mere Hide and some great views from the ramp to this hide of red bellied male Sticklebacks in the Shallows.

Friday 13th a brief afternoon leg stretch and one to one around Ken Hill was brought to life by a wood mouse and then a Stinkhorn covered in fly's and still no Grass snakes

Stinkhorn and fly's, Ken Hill Wood
Sunday 15th, a walk with the family down Gipsy Lane with good views of Spoonbill and Little Tern and later in a Brancaster garden the wonderfully iridescent Oedemera nobilis aka the False Oil Beetle.

Oedemera nobilis aka the False Oil Beetle, Brancaster