Saturday, 8 October 2016

Participating in the Yellow Browed Warbler invasion

For the past few weeks the UK has been inundated [well there have been rather a lot] with Yellow Browed Warbler's and I had seen precisely none this year. So it was wonderful this morning to have a chance to go birding with my mate Jim along the north Norfolk coast.

Yellow Browed Warbler, Brancaster
We headed to Brancaster Staithe, our plan was simply to walk the boardwalk back west towards Brancaster and bird the hedgerows and trees that border it. Initially this seemed like a bad call, although there were birds about the wind was keeping them down and those that there were always seemed to have the sun behind them. But then we reached Branodunum, not the housing estate but the field owned by the National Trust and surrounded by a nice sheltering hedgerow, soon we heard our first Yellow Browed Warbler here and although we couldn't pin this bird down we started to feel lucky.
Yellow Browed Warbler, Brancaster
Walking into the north west corner of the field I picked up a a Phylosc in the top of a tree and Jim and I called it simultaneously as a Yellow Browed, soon we had two of these flitting around and calling giving good if always brief views.

Leaving Branodunum we headed back to the car at Brancaster Staithe with the pinging of Bearded Tits accompanying us. A couple of Red Kites drifted overhead and a Peregrine shot through with the sun behind it as it hunted the marsh. We also saw Common Buzzard and Marsh Harrier here.

Not seeing the Red Breasted Flycatcher at Titchwell
Titchwell was busy, very busy. We spent a while not seeing the Red Breasted Flycatcher but getting brief views of a Pied Flycatcher. On the Fen Trail we heard but didn't see a couple of YBW's and we saw a Common Redstart in a hedge near Patsy's Pool. Walking down the West Bank path expecting a tough time finding the Pectoral Sandpiper we were pleased to find it staked out right by the side of the path, it spent a lot of time in cover only ever giving brief views, often of its back.

Pied Flycatcher, Titchwell
Heading home we picked up a Sparrowhawk being mobbed by Jackdaws,  which meant five species of BOP in a morning and no Kestrel.

Pectoral Sandpiper, Titchwell

All in all a great four hours birding, the best bit being the time Jim and I had a prime bit of east coast habitat to ourselves along with a couple of Yellow Browed's. I love the sense of being able to say not only did I clap eyes on these birds but that I also shared the communal experience of this years invasion of this tiny little warblers. Just as last year it was great to share in that amazing period at Holkham when the bushes were full of rares and birders from across the UK came together to join in the fun. Not that today was all plain sailing whilst giving the kids their tea I had a quick look at BirdGuides Norfolk page on my mobile phone only to discover that a Black Browed Albatross had flown past Old Hunstanton, maybe half a mile as the Albatross flies from my kitchen, ho bloody hum.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Turnstone Action

I'm lucky I live about five minutes walk from Hunstanton beach which means that if ever I have an hour spare I can take my binoculars and camera for a walk and enjoy some great wildlife. I have developed a couple of mild photographic obsessions based around the beach. The first is the nesting Fulmars who provide lots of opportunities to practice my flight photography and I am slowly getting some better quality images of these great birds.
Turnstone, Hunstanton Beach
The second are the Turnstones that live up to their name flicking over the pebbles on the beach and squabbling over scraps of food.

Today I saw from the weather forecast that there was a good chance that the sun would break through the cloud at about 5pm and I managed my day around getting away for a hour or so late afternoon.

When I got to the beach I noticed that the area under the seawall was free of walkers and also had lots of Herring Gulls and Turnstones feeding there. I quickly found the colour ringed Turnstone I was hoping to record [more about them another time] and realised that I could use the Groyne as a makeshift hide allowing me to crouch within six feet of the feeding Turnstones.

Turnstone and Juvenile Herring Gull, Hunstanton Beach
As I watched the birds feed using their beaks and necks to flick over pebbles, grabbing open mussels and teasing out the contents, I realised that there seemed to be a conflict avoidance behaviour going on. Birds would shrilly call at other birds that came to close, normally enough for one bird to then back off, but occasionally there would be a flurry of wings as two birds jousted for food.

Turnstones arguing over food, Hunstanton Beach
It did seem a little odd that there should be any fighting as there seemed to be no shortage of open mussel shells for both the Turnstones and the Herring Gulls present to feed upon.

Turnstones arguing over food, Hunstanton Beach
I had a great hour and a bit with these birds, the light was more miss than hit with just a few moments of golden light. But now I have discovered by Groyne Hide I will be back again trying to get better shots.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Weekend Birds

Late Swallow brood
Saturday was wet here in north west Norfolk. I needed to visit the garage in Brancaster and took advantage of the opportunity afterwards to sit in my car in the harbour for an hour watching the tide slowly rise and the rain drops pit the surface of the water. Almost the first birds that I saw and heard on arrival were a couple of Greenshank's manically feeding around the edges of the harbour, every few minutes taking flight and landing in a new feeding location where they resumed their buy scything of the shallow water before taking flight again.

Greenshank's
A Little Egret fed reasonably close inshore catching small fish that seemed from my perspective to be barely worth the effort that it had to put into catching them. As the rain eased a number of Swallows flew west and Spoonbill circled over the saltmarsh to the east.

Little Egret
Sunday and the sun was back out and we went to our beach hut in the sand dunes to the east of Brancaster beach. Here a late brood of swallows sat spilling out of their nest in the eaves of neighbours beach hut whose decking sported a large pile of swallow crap. Next door a Common Lizard sunned itself. In the scrub a Willow Warbler shared a bush with the local House Sparrows and Wheatear sat up in a gable end.

Willow Warbler
The  sea was still relatively warm and the visibility was the best I've ever known it. Off shore there were still Sandwich Terns albeit in reduced numbers and solitary Great Crested Grebe, Red Breasted Merganser and Guillemot.

Wheatear
Its weekends like this that remind me of why I choose to live where I do, the opportunity it affords me to raise my children by the sea, spend quality time with them in great locations and to live in a bird rich and dynamic part of the world.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Too wet even for ducks

We've had a lot of rain, some lightening and a little thunder here in west Norfolk this afternoon. I spent a pleasant 45 minutes in Island Hide at Titchwell late afternoon and watched the first wave of bad weather pass through from the shelter of the hide ruefully looking at my old metal tripod and the lightening outside. Later I was in the Jolly Sailors in Brancaster Staithe when a really heavy storm came on, black sky's, lightening and torrential rain with an aftermath of flooded roads requiring the fire service to come and pump out a number of properties.

Juvenile Shelduck in rain storm.
No1 and No2 sons [age 4 and 7] thought all of this was terribly exciting and enjoyed watching the storm out of the pub windows and found the drive home along a very wet A149 exhilarating.

During my brief visit to Titchwell I saw a single Spoonbill circle the Fresh Marsh looking almost grey in the storm light, a couple of Marsh Harriers and some distant Curlew Sandpipers. After the storm 20 - 30 Common and Sandwich Terns hawked over the Fresh Marsh. An Avocet swept past in the shallows feeding and looked splendid with its reflection in the black water.

Avocet and reflection
Whilst it rained heavily it was interesting  to watch the ducks sky pointing, aligning their bodies into the rain presumably to minimise the impact of the rain on their feathers. Quite a spectacular afternoon.

Teal Sky Pointing in rain


Friday, 26 August 2016

Gannet action at Bempton

A place where the sound of birds rises above and dominates the east coast wind, where the fishy smell generated by tens of thousands of defecating birds pervades the air, and where a line of white cliffs cuts out into the blue of the North Sea. The RSPB's nature reserve at Bempton Cliffs is all of these things and the most easily accessible large seabird colony in England. Each year I try and make a visit to take in the spectacle of the colony in full flow and this year I was lucky enough to spend a few hours there at the end of July.

Part of RSPB Bempton Cliffs
Tree Sparrows bounced around the bushes surrounding the new Visitor Centre where I was able to grab a welcome coffee and slice of cake. I see Tree Sparrows every year but I am not aware of anywhere in Norfolk where I live where they are so easily seen around bird feeders in and in such good numbers. I love their rich chestnut caps and the black beauty spot on their cheeks.

Tree Sparrow
Caffeinated we set off down the well made path to the cliffs, normally I visit earlier in the Spring and there was a noticeable difference in the birds on view compared to my normal mid April visits. I had to work hard to see Guillemots and Razorbills, apparently the majority of these two species of Auks had finished breeding and left the cliffs the week before, Shags too were thin on the ground. But Puffins were everywhere, on the sea, flying in front of the cliffs and perched below the viewpoints. Apparently late July is just about the best time to see Puffins at Bempton.

Bempton Puffins

But the undoubted stars of the show were the Gannets, many with well grown fluffy chicks on the rocky cliff ledges below the viewpoints, these majestic Persil white seabirds would drift along the cliff tops a few metres away from you. My travelling companion was quite overwhelmed and wanted to add the use of the sens of touch ti that of hearing, smell and sight by reaching out to hold one. Perhaps the most entertaining Gannet action was on a grassy slope near the top of the cliffs where a constant succession of birds came in and landed to grab beak fulls of grass to start the process of making next years nests.

Bempton Gannet and nesting material
All along the cliff top trail were well presented and informative hand drawn chalk boards with key facts about the seabirds. At the southernmost viewpoint I spotted one of the resident peregrines high overhead a great bird to end our walk with.
Peregrine at Bempton

Back at the Visitor Centre I graduated from my morning coffee to a afternoon Ice Cream and then the long drive home.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

A couple of visits to Titchwell

I've had the last week as leave from work and have packed a lot into the ten or so days out of the office including a couple of visits to the RSPB's Titchwell Marsh nature reserve. Unusually for me these were not rushed visits and I had time to properly "bird" the site.

Titchwell at dusk
The Fresh Marsh is alive with birds at the moment, last night I counted 21 Spoonbills here, some doing what Spoonbills do best standing around sleeping, others wading through the shallows feeding. Alongside the Spoonbills were 35 Little Egrets [an under estimate].

Common Tern at Titchwell
Wader diversity hasn't been at it's highest but even so between my two visits I saw large numbers of Avocets and Black Tailed Godwits, Redshanks, Spotted Redshank, Dunlin, Little STint, Common Sandpiper, Lapwing, Golden Plover Oystercatcher, Ruff, Curlew, Whimbrel, Little Ringed Plover.

Black Tailed Godwit at Titchwell
A Hobby dashed through chasing a small wader high up into the sky over the Fresh Marsh before the waders determination to save its life saw it tire out the Falcon and then escape.

Ruff at Titchwell
Bearded Tits can be easily heard at the moment and smalls flocks of juveniles are much in evidence.

Juvenile Bearded Tits at Titchwell





Monday, 11 July 2016

Kids and some summer birds

Sunday and we decided to break with our routine of the last few weekends and not go as a family to our beach hut. Instead we drove further east along the coast road than we would normally go, past Wells next the Sea pausing at Morston to allow no 2 son to get over some threatened car sickness and then to Blakeney Harbour to take the boys Crabbing.
Blakeney Harbour crabbing

The Harbour was packed with space for crabbing limited, nonetheless we found a space and having inserted some cheap bacon into our baits bags we threw our crab lines into the water and the boys were soon pulling out crab after crab and dropping them gingerly into their blue buckets which they normally use for making sandcastles.

After an hour of this we cleaned up in the harbour side toilets and had a pub lunch. Then onto Cley Marshes Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve. Here we walked out to Daukes hide in the middle of the marsh along a boardwalk and over a wooden bridge from which the boys spotted some Sticklebacks and then through the reeds to the thatched hides over looking a freshwater marsh. Initially I thought we were in for a tough time as most of the birds were a fair way off. But then a Marsh Harrier appeared and landed on a island enabling the boys [age 4 and 7] to get great scope views. After this a Spoonbill fed along the nearest bit of Marsh edge to the hide, perhaps twenty feet away and then the female Harrier returned and landed even closer to the hide.

Cley Marsh Harrier, digiscoped
The boys enjoyed this and it clearly made a mark as today no 2 son said he wanted a pet bird either a duck or a Spoonbill and if it was a Spoonbill we needn't worry as he'd catch fish for it.

Spoonbill, Cley

Home via Wiveton Hall for a punnet each of Raspberry's and Strawberry's.