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
Hunstanton
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.

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