Saturday, 27 June 2015


I don't think that I have many annual rituals, but each summer I like to try and find the time to do two things. Swim in the sea between the dunes on Brancaster beach and Scolt Head Island and lie on my back listening to the Terns as they fly overhead. And spending at least one Summers evening down on Dersingham Bog as the sun sets and the light fades from the sky to look for Nightjars and listen to their Churring and buzzing song and wing clapping displays.

Nightjar, Dersingham Bog
Like most landscapes be they the London parks I used to birdwatch in as a kid, or the Norfolk coast and countryside that I live in now, Dersingham Bog takes on a wilder more natural air as darkness descends and people fade out of the landscape.

As I pull up and park in my usual spot and notice that the cars thermometer says it is still 17.5 C at. 9pm, I expect it will be midgy and quietly regret my lack of insect repellent.

The walk down onto the bog takes me through a tunnel of conifers and Rhododendrons, then along the edge of an ancient cliff with a view over the top of a carpet of conifers out to The Wash. I can see a couple hanging around the boardwalk and another trio of birders further along the path. Figuring that I might have to wait up to an hour for the Nightjars to appear I decide to make use of the time and walk out along the undulating and twisting sandy path that skirts the edge of the bog. At 9.37 I hear my first churring Nightjar its song carrying to me from the far side of the bog. Then a Gropper starts to reel away out of view but much closer to me. The distant Nightjar goes quiet and I enjoy another  ten minutes strolling further out across the Bog. Then at about ten to ten they start in earnest, I hear wing clapping and churring and a couple of birds fly over my head chasing each other. The churring to my left is really loud and I eventually pick out a Nightjar on a horizontal pine branch maybe twenty feet away.

Nightjars, Dersingham Bog
The light is fading fast now and I crank up my camera too its highest ISO setting. The flight shots aren't great but I get some OK images of a perched bird. A different call draws my attention to a couple of Woodcock flying over the trees.

Heading back the way I came I try and figure how many Nightjars I've seen or heard and guess somewhere between 10 and 15 birds, as I chew on this pleasing thought, a Tawny Owl starts to call from the edge of the Woods. A quick loop of the Boardwalk yields a brace of bright green Glowworm bums. Back up the hill to the sound of Nightjars and the scent coming off the bracken leaves seems more intense in the dark. Back in my car I give the Midge bites around my neck a good scratch and head home.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

A brief encounter with the cemetery Sparrowhawks

Male Sparrowhawk, Rosary Cemetery, Norwich
The cemetery is at its leafy overgrown best as I walk up the hill through a green tunnel and past the terraced rows of Victorian gravestones many now draped in Ivy and surrounded by Bramble patches. The leafy green is now losing its early spring freshness and even the Ox eye Daisy's look a little tired today.

An insistent screeching call alerts me to the presence of the local Sparrowhawks and I pause to take stock. I've seen them in this corner of the cemetery before and have often suspected that they have a nest here. Excitedly my mind quickly goes over the possibility that they have nested here and if I am hearing recently fledged young soliciting food from their parents.

I stand still and scan the large Copper Beech and Oak in front of me. Then there she is a female Sparrowhawk flies out of the Oak and out of sight and yet still the insistent screeching call continues. I squint through the gently swaying branches and there he is a male Sparrowhawk standing on a thick horizontal oak bough and clasping a unidentifiable prey item in his talons, presumably to entice the female to come and see him should his calling not be enough to do the job.

A Jay squawks from a near by tree and then its pink purple shape flies across the ride pursued by the female Sparrowhawk, who once again disappears from view into the dense green summer canopy and still the male bird sits on his bough, grasping his prey item calling to her.

I'm a little amazed by this, normally if you can see a Sparrowhawk it means they have already seen you and are flying away from you, so to get prolonged and close views like this is a rare treat.

I take some pictures and video of the male with my little compact camera, a Panasonic Lumix TZ30 about the size of a fag packet and a very handy little toy to keep in my pocket for occasions like this. The female briefly joins the male on the bough. And then its over and the spell is broken by another lunchtime walker passing under the male sparrowhawks Oak tree, causing the hawk to fall silent and disappear from view. 

Saturday, 6 June 2015

May catch up

It's been a busy month, so in short and sweet fashion, here are a few sightings for you.

Wed 12th May
Stopped off in Thornham Harbour en route to a meeting at Titchwell, two Wheatear's whilst I drank my coffee were nice. A morning walk and talk around Titchwell was quiet but a single Little Gull was pleasant. Drove over to Frampton for another meeting, not much time for spotting but always good to see the Yellow Wagtails in the roadside fields here. Back at Titchwell I had a more leisurely look at the reserve and saw 2 Little gulls, heard Bittern and Bearded Tit and saw my first Sand and House Martins of the year along with a single Common Sandpiper.

Crap digiscoping - Little Gulls at Titchwell
Thursday 14th
An evening walk and talk around Strumpshaw Fen with friends was quiet but 3 rather smart Marsh Harriers were good to see.

Friday 15th
A brief stop on the way south at NWT Weeting Heath, didn't see a Stone Curlew but did manage a Stoat and Buzzard.
Stoat at Abbey Farm
Friday 15th
A walk along the River Medway in Kent south of Hadlow produced to "purring" Turtle Dove's, a Bullfinch, 
Grey wagtail and singing Blackcap, Chiff Chaff, Whitethroat, willow warbler, and my first Banded Demoisselle of the year. In the evening a Fox crossed the road in front of me in Hadlow.

Saturday 16th
Stopped on my way north at NWT Weeting Heath. Did see a Stone Curlew in the heat haze, notable how many Lapwings had chicks. A Firecrest in the pines by the hide was an added bonus.

Wednesday 20th
Titchwell in the evening, the Red Necked Phalarope along with the Little Gulls which had been present all day were scared off the marsh by a bird scarer half an hour before I got there. But it was a lovely evening with a rising tide being fished by Little Terns as the sun set over the salt marsh. 11 Red Crested Pochard were, I guess, a sign of the times. Best bird was a distant Short Eared Owl.

Friday 22nd
A work visit to Minsmere the walk around produced Bittern 2, Hobby 3, lots of Garden warblers, a very distant Red Necked Phalarope but no Nightingales
Crap digiscoping - Garden Warbler at Minsmere
Sun 24th and Thursday 28th
Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire
Family visits as ever a great place to be and I managed to see Spotted and Pied Flycatchers, Dippers, Common Sandpiper, Mandarin, Common Buzzard, Willow Warbler, Chiff Chaff, Nuthatch, and the Bluebells, Wild Garlic and Water Avens were all out
Crap digiscoping - Dipper at Bolton Abbey

Wild Garlic at Bolton Abbey
Evening of the 28th
A walk down to Bronte Falls near Haworth
Curlews over moors and Red Grouse heard in the distance, willow warblers singing in the trees by the falls.

Bronte Bridge near Haworth

Lapwing near Haworth
Wednesday 27th
Kilnsea Yorkshire Dales National Park
Visited the trout farm and walked up the hill to see the "captive" Lady's Slipper Orchids.
"Captive" Lady's Slipper Orchid, Kilnsea
Blue and Rainbow Trout, Kilnsea

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Butterfly Ball

Out of the wind there is a little warmth in the air, a treat in this cold Spring. The Cow Parsley has grown high to fill the space between the gravestones, their white flowers helping to show off clumps of bluebells.

Walking along one of the paths that winds its way along the edge of the hillside that Cemetery sits on is like walking down a woodland ride, there are clumps of Primroses and I can hear a Chiff Chaffs monotonous song.

A scrap of bright blue catches my eye as it fly's past, it could easily be a detached bluebell petal caught by the wind, but it purposefully gains height around a Holly Tree and is joined by another flying blue petal. They are Holly Blues and they dance around each other and the Holly, occasionally one will break off and disappear into the depths of the overgrown Cemetery, only for another blue scrap to appear and join in the dance, sometimes there are up to half a dozen taking part in this butterfly lek. Then when the sun goes behind a cloud and the temperature drops, they disappear, settled on a leaf, wings folded, blue hidden until the sun reappears, the temperature rises and the butterfly ball starts again.

Holly Blue taking time out from the Butterfly Ball

Sunday, 3 May 2015

March and April filling in the gaps

Marsh Harrier
Friday 6th March
Dusk visit to Lyndford Arboretum, no Hawfinches, but lots of calling Redwings flighting in to roost in conifers, and a Tawny Owl heard.

Saturday 7th March

A quick half hour at Holme Marsh, a female Marsh Harrier, one Barn Owl and boxing Hares

Sunday 8th March
Garganey 1 male, on Patsy's Pool, Red Crested Pochard 4 Pairs on Patsy's Pool, Marsh Harrier 1, Cetti's heard.

Choseley Barns
Single Corn Bunting on wires

Thursday 12th March
Snettisham village, a single Woodlark song-flighting over the office.

Ken Hill Wood lunchtime
Marsh Tit saw several, first in ages, each year I wonder if they have just been very quiet over the winter or are they spring migrants? Also a Peacock my first butterfly of year.

Sunday 15th March.

An evening walk at Holme north from toilet block and back down access road - cold! Marsh Harrier at least 4 including 1 stonkingly well plumaged male, Barn Owl 1, Pied wagtail 3, Fieldfare 11, no summer migrants.

Saturday 21st March
A cold evening visit to Titchwell Marsh in search of Hen Harrier's, saw a male east along dunes at 17.30, plus c 6 Marsh Harriers, one Kestrel, a single male Red Crested Pochard, and two singing Cetti's Warblers.

Stopped at Thornham Harbour on the way home for the rather impressive Starling murmuration.

Male Garganey

Red Crested Pochard
Sunday 22nd March
Titchwell Marsh, winter birds thinning out, spring birds absent, sunnier & a little warmer than last night. Managed single Kingfisher perched on reeds on edge of Betts Pool, plus one Marsh Harrier, one male Red Crested Pochard. Otherwise quiet lots of Brents bathing on Fresh Marsh "good numbers" of Common Gulls passing through.

On way home saw a single Merlin in a field north of Choseley drying Barns, south of Barns 10 - 20 Fieldfare.

Barn Owl
Wednesday 1st April
Dene Park wood, Kent, got out of car and immediately heard first Chiff Chaff of spring in song, by car park a rather lovely clump of Wood anemones.

Thursday 2nd April
Hadlow, Kent, a Brimstone in garden.

Sunday 5th April
Holme Dunes NWT, very quiet, a few Chiff Chaffs. four Marsh Harriers, a Barn Owl, and one White Wagtail in with 10 Pieds.

Monday 6th April
An evening drive "Owling" with no 1 son [age 5].
Drove coast road as far as Lady Annes Drive at Holkham, then looped back inland on Ringstead Road, at great success no1 son saw 3 Barn Owls and a Buzzard well, I also got 2 Little Owls. Best Barn Owl was on Ringstead to Heacham road perched on a post allowing great views

Wednesday 8th April
Brancaster village, sunny day with Peacock, Comma, small Tortoiseshell seen and Blackcap and Chiff Chaff heard.

Another evening "Owling" no1 son. Started this time with a short walk at Holme then drove as far as Brancaster Staithe and the looped back inland. Highlights were 2 Barn Owls and No1 son getting brief views of a Little Owl, plus a couple of close Buzzards one of which was carrying a Leveret, and No 1 son learning to imitate a curlews call.

Saturday 11th April
Courtyard Farm with my wife and two small boys to collect pond water for our tank of Tadpoles, there were Common toads in the Whartons Belt pond, Blackcap and Chiff Chaff singing, Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshell and Comma flying.

Sunday 12th April, 8 - 9.30 am
Walked from Holme toilet block to conifers and back. Highlight was a male Ring Ousel, which was almost the first bird I saw as it flew out of cover on the golf course and landed for just long enough for me to get scope on it, then flew into top of bush by path before disappearing. Also had Chiff Chaffs didn't count these but heard 4 - 6 singing, A Cetti's by the NWT entrance gate. Swallow 3 singles west.

Titchwell Marsh
A quick half hour here with one male Red Crested Pochard on Patsys Pool, 2 - 4 Marsh Harriers, 2 Buzzards, a Sparrowhawk, Chiff Chaffs, and two Cetti's.
Little Bunting

Male Redstart

Tuesday 14th April
Stopped at Choseley Drying Barns on way to and from work, dipped on both visits on Dotterel, but did year tick Wheatear (5)

Thursday 23rd April
Two visits to Snettisham coastal park [lunch time and after work], scored Little Bunting, a rather smart male Redstart, heard a Cuckoo, heard / saw White throat, Lesser Whitethroat, Swallow, Yellow Wagtail, Sedge Warbler, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Chiff Chaff, Cettis 2 - 3, Med Gull 2. Rather good!

Friday 24th April
River Yare in Norwich, small Pond by the Cow Tower a basking terrapin, suspect 3 present.
Subsequent correspondence with a Herpetologist friend
"I was not sure of the Turtle as it does not resemble the normal Red Ear  Trachemys scripta elegans or the Yellow bellied Slider Trachemys scripta scripta. The trouble is there are a lot of subspecies in the USA & Mexico and going down Central America plus some species in the West Indies but managed to find photos of a lot of these and nothing had the WIde yellow Y mark well away from the eye coupled with the thinner line of red together with radial yellow stripes on the shell. I did think of an intergrade or hybrid and sent the photos to an expert over in Denmark who wrote the main document on the species in Europe as an Invasive alien who has said he is certain that it is a hybrid between Trachemys scripta scrripta and Trachemys scripta elegans.

Saturday 25th April
Pensthorpe Natural Park for Wild About the Wensum with the family. An uncomfortably busy day but did manage to year tick Common Tern and a male Orangetip.

Sunday 26th April
Titchwell Marsh, a morning walk turned up a Spotted Redshank in summer plumage, two Little Ringed Plover, a Common Sandpiper, one adult Gannet and four Eider's offshore, a single Cettis seen well, plus Blackcap, Chiff Chaff, Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, and a Grasshopper Warbler reeling from a small willow by Patsy's Pool.

Choseley Drying Barns
Finally connected with the Dotterel, two females and a male very distant views of them in a ploughed field.

Thursday 30th April
A walk to a meeting through St James's Park in London, picked up a Ring Necked Parakeet on call, feeding in London Plane tree very well camouflaged.

Ring necked Parakeet

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Sunset snaps

I live in Hunstanton and regularly see people taking pictures of the sunset over The Wash cameras, phones and tablets held in front of their faces in supplication and I suspect 99% of the time capturing the same snap shot of a ball of fire descending into the sea.

I am occasionally tempted to take a picture like this and below is one that I think works due to the very simplicity and symmetry of the composition.

Wash sunset
But I like to try and get something a little more interesting and a few evenings back I went for a walk at dusk along Hunstanton Beach with my binoculars and little compact camera [a Panasonic Lumix TZ30], as much to stretch my legs and back as anything and with perhaps a vague hope of hearing and maybe seeing a newly arrived Sandwich Tern offshore.

As I filled the void left by the completely absent terns I played with my camera wondering how to make the setting sun part of a more interesting composition than just the cliched ball of fire setting into the sea. And then I saw this family strung out in a line and trudging homewards. I liked the fact there were three of them and how at the end of the day Dad was leading the way and followed by mum and child with their tired heads bowed, or at least that's what I read into the picture. Also liked the simple composition with lines of colour. And yes I know that the horizon isn't quite straight.

Home from the beach

Sunday, 19 April 2015

A brief visit to South Essex

Spent a couple of days for work in south Essex on the 15th and 16th of April, managed to see a few birds along the way.

A hot Wednesday afternoon was spent walking the seawall at Wallasea Island a real feel of summer with the odd Swallow hawking over the approach road and a smattering of citrus bright Yellow Wagtails. As ever the hugeness of this site hits you straight between the yes as you walk down footpath along the edge of the Crouch estuary and view the island being transformed before your eyes.

Bird-wise we heard then saw two or three Med Gulls and a number of Little Egrets and lost of sky larks and singing Corn Buntings. But perhaps the highlight of the visit were the two Short Eared Owls hunting the rank grass by the side of the road.

Black Winged Stilts caught in the act at Bowers Marsh
On Thursday a walk and talk around Bowers Marsh was enlivened by the presence of a pair of Black Winged Stilts part of an influx in the K this spring as this species continues to show signs of colonising. Whilst watching the Stilts and Avocet's we also managed to pick out an unexpected Glaucous Gull. Half a dozen Swallows were the most I have seen together this year. I tried my hand at digiscoping through my old Nikon ED and got the "best" results using my Panasonic Lumix TZ30 Macro Zoom setting.

Glaucous Gull at Bowers Marsh
Finished the tour at Wat Tyler Country Park where the first bird I saw and heard was a Cuckoo, pretty quickly followed by the explosive song of a Cettis Warbler.

Decaying boat at Wat Tyler Country Park