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.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Goldcrest's for Lunch

The east coast deluge of Goldcrest's is over. Just a few weeks back vast numbers of these tiny warblers could be found in almost any piece of seaside cover.

For such a tiny bird, they are smaller than a Wren, Goldcrest's are impressive little things with their orange or yellow crests, small needle bills and round black eyes set against olive green feathers. It can be hard to imagine such little bundles of feathers deliberately crossing the North Sea. Indeed an old colloquial name for Goldcrest was Woodcock Pilot the belief being that to cross the sea they'd hitch a ride on the back of a Woodcock, acting as a pilot for the larger, stronger but perhaps less intelligent bird.
Goldcrest, Rosary Cemetery, Norwich
So here I am on a mid November lunchtime in the heart of Norwich, its sunny and clear but the cold wind tells me that we have almost completed the transition from autumn into winter. A familiar set of chattering and high pitched bird calls has made me stop on the path beneath a couple of small trees that have nearly lost all of their leaves. In them are a mix of small birds Blue, Great and Long Tailed Tits are the most numerous and most obvious but a high pitched call and a couple of fidgety tiny shapes give away the presence of a couple of "Crests"

I start phishing, sucking air between my lips and teeth making a rasping, screeching sound almost guaranteed to bring in curious small birds for a closer look, something I'll need as I have no binoculars with me.

I want to get the Crests in close to check if one of them might be a less common Firecrest and also, well because I can, and to try and get a picture with my compact camera, which is not the best tool for the job.

As I phish a succession of small birds drop in for a look and eventually two small Goldcrests move to my side of the tree flitting and fidgeting through the bare branches whilst I try and get a shot. I can easily see from the views that I get that they are both Goldcrests and I even manage a couple of OK shots.
Goldcrest, Rosary Cemetery, Norwich
Time is pressing and my lunch break is nearly over and I need to retrace my steps through the overgrown cemetery and back to my office, I do so with a small smile of my face as m encounter with these small birds has given me a small birding fix for the day.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

This autumn just keeps on giving: Bluetail, Issy Shrike and Pallas's Warbler

I watched the amazing fall of migrants along the north Norfolk coast unfold not in the field but one step removed on the Internet on the BirdGuides website and various blogs, pictures and accounts of  a stellar cast of eastern rares. Work and a child with a stomach bug got in the way of experiencing any of the birds first hand until Friday when finally I could no longer resist and I took the morning off and drove along the coast road to Holkham.

My plan was to walk quickly to where the Red Flanked Bluetail was located down by the Cross Tracks at the Western end of the Pines in some Sallows and then work my way back east spending more time looking at the Goldcrests in the hope of pulling out a Pallas's or Yellow Browed Warbler. And of course the Isabeline Shrike that was present as well, I knew I wouldn't have time for Wells Wood and the goodies on show there.
Grab shot of Red Flanked Bluetail at Holkham
As I walked I could constantly hear Goldcrests and my planned brisk walk slowed as I paused to look at these. Over head there were flocks of newly arrived Redwings calling in flight. I walked past the small trail for the Bluetail and re-traced my steps with another birder who had done likewise. Arriving round the back of the Sallows I joined a small congregation and the bird quickly showed posing for a second , just long enough for me to admire its deep bluetail before disappearing from view. I stayed for an hour and had a couple more equally brief but worse views before tearing myself away.

Next stop was the Shrike which had apparently been showing well earlier, it wasn't when I arrived in its favoured area and it was only when another birder came and fetched me that I got 0onto it feeding along a scrubby ditch line out on the grazing marsh. That was my lot and I needed a brisk walk back to the car and then home for an afternoon of office work.
Isabeline Shrike [and Redwing] digi-scoped through an very old Nikon ED Scope
But I still had a Pallas's Warbler sized itch to scratch, I'd not seen one for a few years and I didn't want to miss the opportunity that this autumn provided, so today I managed to get out for a couple of hours in the afternoon and headed to Holme where a bird had been reported. Getting directions to the area of The Forestry [sea Buckthorn and Sallow scrub] the bird was in I didn't feel overly confident but I got myself in the right area and a couple of birders put me onto where the bird had last been seen. They left me on my own and I managed to pish the bird out very briefly, what a beauty my favourite bird of the autumn, like a Goldcrest dipped in Sherbet that crown strip and yellow rump, yowser! I set the camera on its maximum ISO setting and grabbed a few shots which I have heavily cropped here.
Pallas's Warbler at Holme