Monday, 20 December 2010

Winter catch up

Waxwing, north Norfolk

Common Snipe, north Norfolk

As usual I seem to start a post by apologising for the delay since my last appearance and proffering the same mix of excuses; work and family commitments reducing time in the field and a intermittent BT Broadband connection reducing time online.

Even for a range restricted birder like me this has been a Waxwing winter. I've had a flock fly over the front garden whilst unloading the car, a single bird over Titchwell and a couple of roadside flocks feeding on hedgerow fruit. All were unexpected treats, picked up on call or out of the corner of the eye whilst driving a back road in NW Norfolk. What I haven't managed is to spend time in good light with confiding birds so none of the shots I have taken are any better than 'record' shots.
It would be nice to think that the cold weather would push over some exciting birds from the continent [Nutcraker, Gyr Falcon or a White Tailed Eagle would be good]. Even without these sort of birds its been nice to have a chance to take some pictures of birds in the snow and ice.
The second picture is a of a Common Snipe frozen out of the main body of the saltmarsh at Thornham and forced to feed in the open on the edge of a tidal creek. Even here with the twice daily scouring of the tide the sides of the creek were coated in a layer of ice.
Not had a chance to have a proper look inside the new hide at Titchwell yet, but I'm told its quite spectacular and offers a great birding experience something to look forward to when I get a moment over the holiday season.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Bonxie and Water Deer at Titchwell

Chinese Water Deer on saltmarsh at Titchwell Marsh, Norfolk

Bonxie at Titchwell Marsh, Norfolk

I managed to get to Titchwell for a couple of hours this morning. A beautiful day with a clear blue sky and a matching full car park. I had hoped to get lucky with the Pallas's Warbler which had been seen intermittently over the previous five days, but after a cold hour staring into a tangle of scrub and seeing diddly squit I decided to walk to the beach.

Highlight of this stroll was an unexpected Bonxie which has apparently been hanging around, freaking out the waders and wildfowl for a couple of days. As it passed over the reedbed towards Thornham a couple of Marsh Harriers came up to mob it and gave a real indication of what big and butch birds these Skuas are.

The Twite flock were present as usual in the low saltmarsh on the Brackish Marsh and I'm told 26 colour ringed birds from the Penines have been identified here this autumn.

Heading back to the car I stopped to look at a Chinese Water Deer on the edge of the saltmarsh an increasingly common sight in this part of the world. At the Visitor Centre feeders a female Brambling could be seen amongst the Greenfinches and Chaffinches and Lesser and Mealy Redpolls enlivened the Siskin flock.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Back in the field

Arctic Warbler twitch, Holme Dunes, Norfolk.

Been a busy summer of family activities and work. Although I've spent some time out and about I don't seem to have been able to find the time to keep this blog up to date. I have though kept posting on my Flickr page [see link opposite].

I have manage to get out for a couple of hours at Holme on each of the last two weekends. Last weekend I managed to connect with Red Backed Shrike, Red Necked Phalarope, Barred Warbler and Common Redstart, all in the space of two hours. Today I joined a crowd of birders in the pines searching for the Arctic Warbler that was first trapped and ringed last Monday. My luck was in and I enjoyed several brief but good views of this cracking little bird, my first in the UK since one in Kent about 15 years ago and even better it was my first Norfolk tick in a long time bringing my county list to a modest 269.

With the West Bank path at Titchwell reopening as far as Island Hide today, I'm looking forward to finding an hour away from the family tomorrow afternoon to catch up with some waders.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

The Way Through The Woods

Ken Hill Wood, Snettisham, Norfolk

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees
It is underneath the coppice and heath
And the thin anemones
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

From: The Way throug the Woods, by Rudyard Kipling.

Summer has arrived with a vengeance in NW Norfolk with temperatures in the mid to high 20's forecast for the next few days.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Fulmars at sunset

Fulmar, Hunstanton
Busy day today so nice to be able to spend half an hour as the sun set over the Wash photographing the Fulmars that nest on Hunstanton cliffs.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Spring Red Necked Grebe

Red necked grebe, Gypsy Lane, Titchwell, Norfolk
Got out for a couple of hours this evening. Main target was the Red necked grebe which has been hanging around the borrow dyke at Gypsy Lane. This proved very easy to find and I even managed a couple of record shots. Cuckoo and Marsh Harrier here plus lots of Redshanks, Lapwings and Oystercatchers.
Then popped into Titchwell Marsh for a quick look for the Curlew Sandpiper reported today. Couldn't find this, but 36 stunning brick red summer plumage Black Tailed Godwits were some compensation.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Bluebells and Opening Times

NWT Foxley Wood, Bluebell Fence
May has been a poor month for me. It started badly with one of the worst colds that I can remember, going round the office and my family and just as I recovered from that the wind got stuck in the north and we have shivered through most of the month. So it was a joy to get out in the sunshine with the family today and visit the Norfolk Wildlife Trusts Foxley Wood nature reserve to see a few Bluebells.
It had been a few years since we last visited late on a spring afternoon, then we were greeted with a sign that explained that the reserve shut at 5pm and that we and our car would be locked in after that time. The sign was still there along with a more welcome one pointing out the direction to go for the Foxley Wood Bluebell trail. Reassured that we would be directed to the best part of this large wood for Bluebells we set off pushing the pram in four wheel drive mode and toting a restrained amount of camera gear.
It was great to hear even quite late in the morning [you can't access the site before 9 am or on a Thursday, Why?] a great deal of bird song including Blackcap, Garden Warbler Chiff-Chaff, Willow Warbler and Turtle Dove. At the first junction it become apparent that the only helpful Bluebell Trail signs were in the car park and from here on in we would just have to explore the wood by following our noses, something I enjoy doing normally but by now I had raised expectations of being taken to the best Bluebell areas of the wood.
After a pleasant half hour stroll in which the Little Fella pointed out lots of trees and a Ladybird [a talented naturalist at thirteen months] we finally came to a patch of Bluebells which we were excluded from going anywhere near by a temporary fence. There was no interpretation by this barrier to explain why it had been erected and I came away with the impression that it was there purely to keep visitors to the woods away from the Bluebells that they had come to see.
All in all our visit seemed a great example of how through careless signage and a antagonistic approach to the visitor experience, an organisation was able to put a gap in a visitors mind between the enjoyable parts of our visit and its role in providing them. Very frustrating.
An afternoon visit on my own to RSPB Titchwell Marsh had a very different feel to it. A special event was being held attempting to see how many species could be seen on the reserve in one day [the list stood at 113 species in mid afternoon] and there were wardens and volunteers positioned along the West Bank path to point out birds if you wanted them to. This was both fun and really helpful and enabled me to see the two Wood Sandpipers and two Temminks Stints which skulked half hidden on the Fresh Marsh. These along with Little Terns and Common Terns and a warm sun on my back gave the reserve a real feel of summer and the helpful wardens and signage gave it a real welcoming feel.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Early Spring Butterflies

Male Orangetip [sorry haven't got a Green Hairstreak picture - yet]

The warm weather of the past week has brought out the early spring butterflies in NW Norfolk. Last weekend I saw my first Orangetips at Courtyard Farm near Ringstead. These fast flying white butterflies with their citrus orange wing tips are a real sign of spring emerging in mid / late April with the first warm weather and all but gone for another year by the end of May. Go and look for them now and get your annual fix.

Yesterday another walk at Courtyard Farm with a definite butterfly 'target' in mind, the Green Hairstreak. I have seen these elusive butterflies here in most recent springs and with the air temperature hitting 20 C yesterday thought it worth a punt.

So late afternoon my wife, small child and I walked up a ride coming off the Ringstead road and around Wharton's belt. Initially it didn't look promising with very few butterflies on the wing, but then at the top of the ride where it joins the end of a narrow belt of woodland, butterflies started to appear. A Speckled Wood first and then a lovely male Orangetip.

Then above us high up a pair of small butterflies who were either having an aerial duel or dancing a wonderful duet. Eventually these came lower and for a second I had them in my binoculars and they looked to me like wafer thin slivers of emerald each given life by the early spring sunshine - a pair of Green Hairstreaks and cause for a little celebratory dance.

We also saw a splendid Red Admiral here and our first Holly Blues of the year.

Birds were good with a single Common Buzzard, about a dozen Whimbrel and singing Willow Warbler, Chiff Chaff and Blackcap.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Lakenheath Magic

Mute Swan, Lakenheath Fen

I ended this Easter Weekend down in the Brecks at one of my favourite places Lakenheath Fen RSPB nature reserve.

Lakenheath is special, not just because it is an amazing place to experience some of the UK's most special wildlife including our only nesting Golden Orioles and the first Cranes to nest in the Fens in four centuries. It is also special because it is a landscape restored. Hundreds of years ago the Fens here would have supported a wonderful array of wildlife and a local community, then gradually over time they were drained for agriculture, until today only a small remnant remains.

So when a dozen or so years ago the RSPB purchased some rather large carrot fields with the expressed intention of turning them into a world class wetland, it was a inspiring statement of hope. Today the Fen is a wonderful landscape to walk in. Later this month the sound-scape will pick up pace as hundreds of pairs of Sedge and Reed Warblers take up their summer home in this new wetland and the wonderful fluting song of the Golden Oriole will echo around the Poplar plantations.

Today though it was cold and grey and windy. But still you could tell what a special place this is, Marsh Harriers quartered the new reedbeds, a bird of prey which is still rarer in the UK than the Golden Eagle.

But best of all the Craniac in me was given a fix as, three times I saw a single Common Crane get up from in amongst the tawny reeds and fly around, it even did a circuit over the river, in the process placing itself on my Norfolk year list. This bird has some smudgy brown feathers on its back, so an immature bird, so probably the young bird that fledged last summer the first to do so in the Fens in 400 years. Never mind the weather pleased to make your acquaintance.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Wild Crocuses, Norwich's best kept secret

Crocuses, Rosary Cemetery, Norwich

The short amble around the Rosary Cemetery in Norwich is one of my favourite walks, not only because it is close to the office and offers me a chance to get away from the computer at lunchtime but primarily it is a great place for wildlife. You need to take your time and look for the details on the gravestone's where White Lipped Snails come out after rain, or in the summer months search for the gold and black Hoverflies.

But it is the early spring that I think the cemetery is at its most wild and alive. In the small pond Common Frogs and Smooth Newts return to breed in an enthusiastic amphibian orgy. But best of all are the Crocuses, thousands of them gone wild and growing not where any gardener wants them but wherever they find conditions that are suitable. Each spring I try and capture this display and never feel that I have done it justice. the picture above is one attempt to do so this spring and I will make many more lunchtime attempts before the crocuses turnover and fade back into the earth.

You can see more Rosary Cemetery pictures on my Flickr page at

Friday, 12 March 2010

Baited Buntings

Snow Bunting at bait, north Norfolk

Snow Buntings are a classic winter bird in north Norfolk, their flocks are often described as looking like a flurry of snow flakes as they take flight. Normally you would need to walk some of the quieter stretches of coastline to find a flock [Holme has been good this winter]. However at Salthouse the birds come to seed, I believe that this was originally put down by ringers so that they could catch and ring birds as part of a scientific study. I'm less clear as to who feeds them these days, certainly this afternoon a couple of photographers looked as if they had been putting out some millet.

You would think that this might be considered a harmless, even beneficial activity by all birdwatchers, however some concerns have been raised that not only are the Snow Buntings being fed but that local birds of prey will also notice the concentration of prey items in this one spot and that this will lead to increased predation of wintering Snow Buntings. As far as I am aware this has not happened and the Snow Buntings have become something of an attraction in their own right.

I managed half an hour with these lovely little birds today under a cloudy grey sky with low light and so didn't manage any amazing shots, nonetheless it was a fun experience and I'll see if I can get back before the Snow Buntings disappear in the spring.

I wonder what other birds it would be appropriate to bait in like this, there are plenty of traditional peanut feeders hanging up around nature reserves and gardens along the coast to attract Blue Tits, Greenfinches etc, what else could we responsibly bait in, Water Rails with fish, Bearded Tits at Grit trays?

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Hare Today?

Brown Hare near Anmer

So far this early spring I have seen very few Brown Hare's compared to last year, perhaps the cold weather has dampened their ardour and they are just being less conspicuous of perhaps the cold winter weather has knocked the population back. I know also that one or two local shoots refrained from shooting Hares in the first part of the winter as their numbers were low following a disease outbreak.

This individual was feeding by the side of a quiet back road near Anmer and allowed me to take just one picture.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

An Orwellian view of Spring

Naturalised Crocuses, Norwich
Took the baby for a walk this morning, lovely blue sky with two Common Buzzards wheeling over the woods behind Hunstanton and a Dunnock singing in a garden at the end of our road. Spring is coming and these words written by George Orwell 70 or so years ago feel appropriate.

"So long as you are not actually ill, hungry, frightened or immured in a prison or holiday camp, spring is still spring. The atom bombs are piling up in factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply though they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it." George Orwell

With acknowledgment to Richard Mabey quoting this passage in the March issue of BBC Wildlife magazine.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Tit Flocks

Ken Hill Wood [there's a Marsh Tit in this picture somewhere]

The diary has been kind to me this week and I've managed a couple of days working out of an office in Snettisham, close to home in Hunstanton. This meant that I managed a couple of lunchtime excursions into Ken Hill Woods.

These woods here can at times appear a little bird less and then with a little luck you come across a small mixed flock and things get a bit more interesting.

Earlier this week I had a twenty minute pootle and managed to 'pish' n a couple of Marsh Tits which are always nice to see and were my first of the year. Today a longer walk appeared to be a pretty bird free zone until I came across a mixed tit flock. Most of the birds were Coal Tits with a few Long Tailed, Blue and Great Tits for company. It was pleasing though to also find some Treecreepers and a couple of Nuthatches in this flock.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Mussel Harvest

Oystercatcher, Brancaster Staithe

From a purely selfish perspective, one of the great things about the winter on the north Norfolk coast is that there are fewer people around. This means that it is possible at this time of year to have the small coastal harbours almost to oneself even in the middle of the day. So this afternoon I popped into Brancaster Staithe Harbour on my way to Titchwell Marsh.

The tide was out and there only one other car on the harbour hard in which an elderly couple snoozed. Winding down the window I could hear the tell tall crack as a mussel shell hit the ground dropped by a hungry Herring Gull. I have blogged before on this piece of learned behaviour and the response of the local Turnstones to try and take advantage of the cracked open mussel shells before the Herring Gulls are able to reach the ground.

Today I saw a development on this theme as a juvenile Oystercatcher joined a single Turnstone in trying to pinch a adult Herring Gulls meal. Later I photographed an Oystercatcher asleep on top of the sacks of harvested Mussels.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The World's still turning


Naturalised crocus
Although in today's cold drizzle it was a little hard to believe spring is coming on and with it one of Norfolk's best kept wildlife secrets the annual burst of colour in the Rosary Cemetery as thousands of 'feral' crocuses carpet the ground. I love this annual show of life bursting through the ground fed I guess in parts by the bones of the departed.
The Snowdrops which will shortly be outnumbered by Crocuses are already looking good and today I saw my first Crocus flowers. Interestingly the Butterburr flowers that normally precede the bulbs have been slow to appear this year with a only a few flower stalks present.

Monday, 15 February 2010

The World's Started Turning

Robin, Titchwell Marsh, Norfolk, February 2010

I managed an hour at Titchwell Marsh on Saturday and with a clear blue sky there was a definite feeling of spring in the air. Patches of Snowdrops were coming into bloom by the side of the path between the visitor centre and the car park and our resident songbirds could be heard flexing their vocal muscles.

The Robins at Titchwell are know for their tameness and you can get great images of them using a digital compact camera. For this shot I used a 400mm lens and I like the way that this has thrown the background out of focus.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Snow Buntings at Holme

Snow Bunting, Holme, winter 2008/2009

A bad back meant that what I really needed today was a good walk, so I left the car at home and walked from Hunstanton to the west end of Holme and back.

Usual mix of waders on the beach including Bar Tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Sanderling, Turnstone, Redshank etc. A steady movement of Wigeon east and few Brent flocks flying past offshore. On the sea a handful of Great Crested Grebes and a single Red Necked Grebe.

Best though on my way back when I thought that I had missed them, was a flock of 70 plus Snow Buntings feeding on the beach, these took my Norfolk year list to 114 species.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Whitlingham lunchtime birding

Whitlingham Broad, Norwich
Finally had a clear lunch break and made the ten minute drive to Whitlingham Broad for a birding fix and some rather nice year ticks.

There is obviously a bit of a lunchtime birding scene going on here with half a dozen birders, some sporting ties, hanging around the edge of the Broad and scoping the excellent selection of winter wildfowl present.

During my short stay I added Red Necked Grebe [1], Slavonian Grebe [1], Scaup [1] and Ruddy Duck [1] to the year list plus single Great Northern Diver and Smew. All in all an excellent half hours spotting within Norwich city limits and the year list now stands at 112.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Blue Sky at last

Spring has been in the air today, blue a blue sky, the thermometer at 7 C and the song of Great Tits gave the day a fresh feel after the cold grey weather we have had of late.

Added a few birds to the year list today. In King's Lynn a Peregrine landed on the white tower in the docks whilst we were stopped at lights. A walk around Courtyard Farm was enlivened by a very confiding Fox and a Buzzard over a distant copse.

Titchwell Marsh was bombed with people, who I guess like me had been cooped up during the snow and ice. Bird highlights here were three Redhead Smew, single Water Rail, Spotted Redshank and Bittern and three Marsh Harriers.

A very nice Sunday and the year list now stands at a modest 108 species, all so far in Norfolk.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Goldies at the Triangle

Male Golden Pheasant, Wolferton, Norfolk

I had to go to the shops in King's Lynn this afternoon and with half an hour to spare I took a short diversion around the Wolferton Triangle in search of Golden Pheasants or more accurately Golden / Lady Amhersts Pheasant hybrids.

As you can see I was successful although as ever these are right skulkers and this is the best shot I managed of one of the three males I saw. Species 101 in Norfolk for the year.

Also had an obliging Woodcock feeding in the snow by the side of the road, you can see a picture on my Flickr page link opposite.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Death in the snow

Woodpigeon blood and feathers in snow, Ken Hill Wood, Norfolk

The snow deadens things and allows us to view the landscape in a different way. Here the stark crimson patch of blood and loose curl of feathers stand out against the white snow far more clearly than they would have done against the brown winter mud that would normally provide the backdrop to this image.

My guess is that this is a Sparrowhawk kill and whilst this is grim news for the Woodpigeon involved it tells a heartening tale that one of our most enigmatic predators is alive and well in this wood.

Predator and prey such a natural a part of our countryside and a great indicator of its health. Yet one that some folk find distasteful and something to kick against. For me its something to celebrate.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Ice Diver

Mute Swans, Whitlingham, Norwich

Had a quick lunchtime visit to Whitlingham Country Park in Norwich today. Over half of the Broad was covered in ice and there were large numbers of wildfowl feeding in the ice free areas close to the bank. Our target bird was a Great Northern Diver which obliged with close views as it fished the ice free part of the Broad, a real Polaris of a bird as it effortlessly slipped through the water.

No sign of the Smew and Black Necked Grebe which have been here of late but we did manage a single Goosander which was nice. Although the Diver was close it wasn't close enough for my compact camera, so you'll have to make do with this obliging Mute Swan family.

Friday, 1 January 2010

New Years Day Birding

Water Rail, North Norfolk

After a sickly Christmas I managed to get a full day in the field today. Worked the coast from Hunstanton to Holkham and back. A coincidence that this was New Years Day and so if I wish the beginnings of a new year list [something I didn't bother with last year]. Good to be out and about auditing what birds are about in the neighbourhood and something I enjoyed all the more now that fatherhood has restricted the time I can spend in the field.

First birds of the year were fly over Black Headed Gulls as I got into my car in Hunstanton followed by Fulmars riding the updraft along the cliff top. Almost the first bird at Holme Marsh was a Water Rail, followed by a hunting Barn Owl. A slow drive along some back roads added Yellowhammer, Corn Bunting and Reed Bunting. Then to Titchwell via a quiet Brancaster Staithe harbour. Titchwell was just getting busy as I arrived and looking great in the bright New Years Day sunshine. A Red Kite quartering the dunes over Thornham Point was a unexpected treat as was an adult Little Gull. Less surprising but equally wonderful was a male Bullfinch.

After Titchwell I headed for Holkham and Lady Anne's Drive. This was absolutely bombed with people, the busiest I've ever seen it. I thought I'd get away from the crowds on the saltmarsh, but all that happened was that I had their dogs for company and was unable to find any Shorelarks. Still the grazing marsh was productive with tens of thousands of Pink Feet present and a single Snow Goose.

To get away from the crowds I decided to end the day at Burnham Norton, here I added a single ringtail Hen Harrier to the day list along with another three or four Barn Owls.

The day wasn't quite over yet as I drove back via the road that cuts through Courtyard Farm I flushed two Woodcock from the roadside species number 83 for the day.