Sunday, 30 April 2017

Blickling Hall Bluebell Walk

Over the past few weeks it became clear from my social media accounts that across the south of the UK the display in Bluebell woods was peaking and with a early May Bank Holiday weekend free we decided to take the family to the National Trusts Blickling Estate to see the carpets of Bluebells in the woods there.

Bluebells at Blickling Hall, Norfolk
On arrival we managed to squeeze into the last parking space in the woodland car park and join a steady stream of families heading up the hill into the woods. Birdsong was a little muted but in the distance I could hear a Nuthatch and there were some very vocal Blackcap's and Chiff Chaffs around the trail.

I'd taken a couple of cameras with me and within minutes our two young boys had taken these off me so that they could join in with the other visitors to the woods in a orgy of  Bluebell Photography and selfie taking. Our fellow Bluebell Pilgrims displayed the full range of camera kit from mobile phones through tablets to full blown DSLR's.

Bluebell photography at Blickling Hall, Norfolk
There are some natural phenomena which seem to drag the great British public out in their droves, in Norfolk early Spring Snowdrop walks are a big thing at places like Walsingham Abbey and are a great way of having a gentle stroll in the countryside perhaps bookmarked by Coffee and cake. A couple of months later come the Bluebell's more nice walks with family and friends and of course more refreshments.

Bluebell walk at Blickling Hall, Norfolk
The Bluebells at Blickling were at their peak all were open and none that I could see had yet started to turn over, amongst them were the odd spots of pink from Red Campion flowers and a thin splash of white where a clump of Wild Garlic grew along the side of a ditch.

Bluebells at Blickling Hall, Norfolk
Bluebells are a feature of our woods as I understand a combination of our mild  Atlantic climate and a removal of some natural processes such as Wild Boar rooting for bulbs has allowed the carpets that we see today to flourish. I wonder if anyone has noticed a change to the display of Bluebells where Wild Boar have made a welcome return to our woods in places such as the Forest of Dean? Other threats are introduced Spanish Bluebells hybridising with out native Bluebells and climate change impacting on the conditions that they need to thrive.

Bluebells at Blickling Hall, Norfolk
We ended our walk by driving the short distance round to the main Blickling Hall car park and walked down to the edge of the lake for a picnic tea. All in all a pleasant afternoon.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Spring Waxwings

Late April and the Bird Guides Norfolk page continues to carry news of a flock of Waxwings on the outskirts of Norwich, I realise that they are hanging a round a retail park and industrial estate just off the A47 on my way home and that I haven't seen a Waxwing this year.
Waxwing, Norwich

The next morning I pull off the A47 and have a drive around the industrial estate but no joy, its a big place and I could do with directions, fortunately a colleague spent Sunday morning watching the birds and is able to sketch a map for me on a piece of scrap paper.
Waxwing, Norwich

Properly equipped I revisit the industrial estate and soon find the birds or rather they find me as they fly over my car. As soon as I get out I can hear their wonderful trilling call and by arching my neck I can see half a dozen Waxwings in the tree above me. Soon they take flight across the road and back to some berry bushes to feed and I am able to get close enough wit a old 100 - 300mm zoom lens to take a few snaps, the lights isn't great but it is still lovely to be so close to these birds.
Waxwing, Norwich

Fittingly the weather is wintry with grey cloud a cold wind and occasional showers, I wonder if they will still be here in a weeks time when the first returning Swifts could be flying overhead?

Monday, 24 April 2017

Black Tern at Titchwell

Saturday's are always a busy family day with kids swimming lessons, and shopping for groceries to do and usually involve me casting regular glances at my phone to check the Bird Guides Norfolk news page. Last weekend was no exception to this pattern and I even squeezed in a kick about with the boys in the park after lunch.

Black Tern, Titchwell

The bird news was dominated by the east of the county where a singing Savi's Warbler and wandering Sea Eagle were the highlights. Closer to home though a Black Tern stood out as a good bird to go for, these are annual here but never common and it is perfectly possible to go a year or two without seeing one [I can prove that because it must be a couple of years since I last saw one on the coast].

Black Tern, Titchwell

So after putting some sausages in the oven for the boys tea I left them at home with their Mum and headed east along the A149 for the six or so mile drive to Titchwell. Walking down the West Bank path past a trio of male Red Created Pochard's I soon could see the Tern distantly swooping over the most distant side of the Fresh Marsh. I decided to position myself just outside the Parrinder Hide in the hope that it would at least once fly close enough for some decent pictures.

Once in position the Tern gave great scope views, its dark charcoal black plumage glistening in the spring sunshine. Unfortunately it never did come close and so the pictures I have to share with you here are heavily cropped record shots rather than works of art. But it was a great bird to see and it gave me an excuse to spend a very peasant hour looking out across the Fresh Marsh listening to he calls of the Avocets and the distant boom of a Bittern.

Couple of Shelduck that flew over whilst watching the Tern

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Kestrel Hunting

I rather like Kestrels, they are the Falcon of my London childhood when all other birds of prey were rarities, their populations slowly recovering from the effects of chemical poisoning and human persecution. Kestrels were the bird of prey that I would see over my local parks and woods and which  I would use as my birding yardstick when as I grew more experienced I would encounter and attempt to identify other small raptors.

Male Kestrel about to clobber a rodent, Brancaster

But more than that, like all Falcons they are great to look at, elegant even. And what a skill it is to be able to hover in the wind like they do, but perhaps a skill it is easy to cease to wonder at because it is so common place.

In recent years Kestrel populations have suffered a decline and whilst they are still widespread and relatively common this population fall is enough to make you realise that like all of our wildlife we should not take them for granted.

Male Kestrel hunting

Yesterday I was walking in the sand dunes between Brancaster Beach and the golf links when I saw a hovering Kestrel hunting the long yellow and brown grass of the dunes. This male bird was holding steady in blustery North Westerly breeze, normally I would expect a Kestrel to make several half dives, falling from the sky and then aborting the dive halfway to the ground, but on this occasion its first dive was a success and it disappeared from view into the long grass. Eventually after a few minutes it rose back into the air and flew off.

Male Kestrel about to disappear into the long grass, Brancaster

I had a old DSLR with me with an even old 10 -300mm zoom lens and fired off a few shots. These have not come out as sharp as I would like but I quite like the way that they capture the essence of this small bird of prey and the coastal habitat that it has made its home.

Kestrel departing