Saturday, 30 July 2011

The North Norfolk and Breckland Experience (12/4/11)

It’s 9:00am on 12th April and I'm at Titchwell RSPB, about to meet Simeon Grundy, a very nice young birder who I had been birding with a couple of times before. As I head along the walkboard with the reeds surrounding me, I pick up a Snipe (yeartick) in flight. The famous freshmarsh where in 2010 I had seen 5 Black-winged Stilts then appears in view, as does Sim who is staring out onto the marsh close by. We greeted one another – it was good to see him.

The birding had started. I was delighted by the number of Brent Geese present. A careful count resulted in a total of 70 Brent Geese, a total you don't get in Aberdeenshire due to how uncommon they are. There was also a nice variety of waders present, the most notable amongst the common ones being at least 15 Ruffs and a total of 30 Black-tailed Godwits, the Blackwits mostly in stunning summer plumage, and of course plenty of stunning Avocets. Over 40 of the 70 Brent Geese were present on the freshmarsh too. There had been a couple of Garganey around but we couldn’t find these. Apart from that there wasn’t a great deal about except the commoner wildfowl and some gulls, so we headed round to new territory – the new Parrinder hide.

Parrinder Hide overlooks an area of brackish marsh just opposite the freshmarsh, and it seems to attract some decent birds. On arrival, Dad very quickly picked out a stunning Yellow Wagtail (yeartick) amongst a group of Pieds, of the British subspecies flavassima. Yellow Wagtail is a rare treat for us birders in Scotland, and something I can only expect to see when down in the likes of Norfolk (I have had one locally at Girdleness before though). As a result, seeing this little beauty darting along the brackish marsh was a very enjoyable sight. Dad also picked out a White Wagtail in a different area of the marsh. Further scanning resulted in me coming across 2 Little Ringed Plovers (yeartick), which were originally at the left hand edge of the brackish marsh but later came very close to the hide and showed extremely well – it’s always delightful seeing these charismatic birds. 2 Wheatears were scampering about near the LRPs, whilst Sim interestingly got us onto a Grey Plover at the back of the marsh. Sim furthermore alerted me of a female Bearded Tit (yeartick) in flight that I got onto briefly, another bird you just don’t get up in Aberdeenshire and always such a pleasure to see. This was a productive spell with some valuable year ticks, but there didn’t seem to be much of an incentive to check the rest of Titchwell, so we decided that we’d head back to the car and take it from there. As we passed through the woods towards the Visitor Centre, we heard an odd sounding Chiffchaff at the turn off to the Meadow Trail, its song seeming to contain a few odd notes towards the end of the song that you wouldn’t normally hear in Chiffchaff. Iberian Chiffchaff crossed our minds, but when we heard it do what sounded like the standard Chiffchaff song this became a passing suspicion. We should have probably stuck with it though and tried to see it, as the next day an Iberian Chiffchaff was seen and heard in full song from the exact same place!!

Titchwell with the Parrinder Hide in the distance

The Freshmarsh

Next stop was Stiffkey Fen, but we got side-tracked when a large raptor across the road near Burnham Norton revealed itself to be a Red Kite (yeartick). As we came to a dramatic halt and got out the car, we got great views of this spectacular bird as it flew above a patch of trees by the road and then proceeded to twist across an area of fields before landing in an area of marsh. I was well pleased, heading towards Stiffkey feeling very happy. On arrival at Stiffkey we passed an ideal looking pool for waders by the side of the road, which unfortunately we couldn’t park by as it was by a sharp corner. Sim said he had always liked the look of this pool so we managed to find a way down to view it. It fulfilled its potential as Sim rapidly found a Green Sandpiper (yeartick) in amongst a group of 3 Ruffs and several Redshanks and Avocets – wonderfully energetic birds and a species I found surprisingly hard to catch up with last year. After a few minutes watching this bird, we left the pool and were directed to the Fen itself. Stiffkey Fen was largely dominated by Brent Geese and Black-tailed Godwits, with 50 of the former and at least 60 of the latter. There were also plenty of gulls around, and amongst a group of Black-headeds Sim very briefly picked out an adult Mediterranean Gull, which we didn’t see. Far more obliging with the Black-headeds was a first-summer Little Gull (yeartick), seen almost entirely in flight – yet another noteworthy bird. On top of this, a Little Ringed Plover showed well, the third of the day. This was supposed to be a quiet day in Norfolk terms!

Stiffkey Fen

We headed to Cley on the back of a report of two Ring Ouzels at an area called ‘The Hangs’. No-one in the visitor centre seemed to know where "The Hangs" were as it wasn’t on the main reserve, but thankfully some locals were able to give us directions to the area. It was nice to see Marsh Harriers at close range here, although they are such a common species in Norfolk. Once we had found ‘The Hangs’, an area of high ground overlooking Cley, we were unable to find the Ring Ouzels. It was around 2:00pm and with the coast being quiet we were undecided as to what to do. Dad and I were staying the night all the way down in Thetford as we aimed to go birding there in the morning. It was a tricky decision having to choose against staying on the North Norfolk Coast or leaving the coast, but it seemed the wisest option. So, with a few birds on the agenda there and with Sim not living that far away, we made our way there. The birds that I aimed to try for in the Thetford area included Stone Curlew, Willow Tit, Woodlark, Goshawk and Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, so I had to choose a couple of the sites to go that evening before taking Sim home at dusk. We arrived at Thetford at around 3:45pm with just over 4 hours to do birding before dusk and dropping Sim back home, having decided on the journey that we’d head to Olley’s Farm first to try for Goshawk and potentially Woodlark, and then to Lynford Arboretum for Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, all bogey birds of mine.

Olley’s Farm wasn't easy to find. Luckily Sim had been before so he knew exactly where to go. We parked in a large lay-by along a stretch of the A11 near Thetford which went through Thetford Forest. As we got out of the car, we surprisingly came across another Red Kite flying high over the tall trees and over the A11; it felt satisfying to have managed two of these magnificent birds in a day. It quickly went out of view, at which point we started what was a pretty long walk to the watchpoint, a clearing in the forest which the birds regularly soared over. On arrival we didn’t pick anything up. After about 5 minutes though I got onto a raptor that had just emerged above the conifers, and I immediately shouted that I had a Goshawk. The others got onto it and 100% confirmed it as a female Goshawk. A feeling of glee passed over me, I had finally seen a Goshawk and I had just self-found it – and it was no ordinary looking bogey bird either, a cracking looking one! This bird was much larger than a Sparrowhawk, with the diagnostic long tail which was the same width as its length. Its brown appearance and slight barring on the belly suggested that this was a sub-adult female rather than an adult female or a juvenile. At first it circled over the pines, so I was able to get reasonably good views of the whole bird. After a minute or so of circling, it proceeded to fly eastwards low over the trees with slow wingbeats; quite a telling feature as a Sparrowhawk’s wingbeats would have been much faster and urgent rather than relaxed. Not long after this it went below the tree line and didn’t reappear. Views were distant, but I had just watched my first Goshawk for over two minutes so I was happy enough!

We planned to hang around though as we had only just arrived and were keen to see more of the Goshawk(s). 15 minutes passed with no raptors at all on the wing, until Sim and I simultaneously got onto a smaller looking raptor circling in the same area the female Goshawk had been with the binoculars. On first impression through the bins it was smaller than female Goshawk but larger than female Sparrowhawk. Sim was quickly on the bird in his scope, at which point he was able to pick out the features of the bird and confirm this as a male Goshawk. Another wave of delight surged through me. This bird only circled at first, and by the time it was IDed it was flying low against the tree line, yet again with less erratic and slower wingbeats than Sprawk. I watched it in the bins for about 30 seconds until it disappeared from view, so only brief views were had. Nonetheless though, we were delighted having seen two Goshawks, a day maker in its own right. We spent an hour longer at the site in the hope that we’d see more of the Goshawks, but unfortunately none showed after this. We also had a look for Woodlark here, but were unsuccessful. There was more raptor interest late on though as what we presumed the same Red Kite was seen over the conifers and watched for a while. As we headed back towards the car we were alerted by the echoing call of a Brambling, something I have very rarely heard before. We traced the call to a group of closer conifers and scanned the tree tops to see if there were any there. Sure enough, there was not one but 3 male Bramblings (yeartick) mixed in with several Siskins on the tree tops. Bramblings are beautiful birds and not something I see often so it was delightful seeing them and made me even happier than I already was.

I was hoping that the last visit of the day to the nearby Lynford Arboretum would be equally productive. Sim knew an area at the site which was very good for Lesser-spotted Woodpecker. On the way to this specific site I went past the famous horse-paddocks which I was aware sometimes held Hawfinch and Firecrest. Once past the horse-paddocks we took a right into woodland and were down by a stream. From here you could look up into the trees and this was where Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers were apparently seen most often, although it would be a matter of patience. We stayed there for about 30 minutes, eyes peeled on the tree trunks, but unfortunately with no result. We didn’t have much longer and the sun was setting fast, so we headed towards the car. That wasn’t it though. Just as we were going out the woodland we found 2 Marsh Tits (yeartick), feeding on a tree stump and calling to each other, yet another bird that is always delightful to see because of its rarity in Scotland. There was another one of those type of birds to come. As we walked alongside the horse-paddocks, a Barn Owl (yeartick) emerged from an area of trees nearby with a vole dangling from its mouth. This exquisite bird drifted along effortlessly within 40ft of me, its ghostly white, heart-shaped face and intense eyes taking in its surroundings and noticing our presence; it couldn’t get more perfect. These birds are so beautiful they appear like a dream to me; I was utterly mesmerized as it passed close by. Its magical show was brief however, and it soon vanished. Finally, to round things all off, we got nice views of a Nuthatch by the car park. From there, we took Sim home, and made our way back to Thetford for the night.

The Paddocks at Lynford Arboretum

Lynford Hall (in the distance!)

What a perfect way to end a great day’s birding! Even though there were no rarities about, the variety of great birds I saw on that one day would be impossible to rival elsewhere. I ended the day with one lifer and 12 valuable year ticks, the latter of which many were birds I haven’t seen since this year. Once again Norfolk showed its astonishing quality, would it show it for the third time running on the last day of the trip?

Thanks for reading


Friday, 29 July 2011

Arrival in Norfolk (11/4/11)

Monday 11th April saw my Dad and I meandering slowly up towards the North Norfolk coast with no time pressures whatsoever. Initially the plan had been to go for the Short-toed Treecreeper at Landguard, but unfortunately this had disappeared several days before we left. Consequently, we had the flexibility to go anywhere that we wished in Norfolk and Suffolk. Keeping an eye on Birdguides the night before, I had a look to see what was around and on the basis of several reports I decided which places we would visit that day. 6 Shore Larks at Kessingland Sluice in Suffolk sparked some interest, so it was decided that we would make there our first stop. The other eye-catching report was of two Dotterel at Waxham in East Norfolk, conveniently near Horsey Mere, Winterton Dunes and Hickling Broad. The combination of visiting Waxham and the likes of Horsey meant we would make this our second port of call. The plan after this would be to head up towards the North Norfolk coast to our B&B in Wells-next-the Sea and then spend an evening birding at Holkham nearby. The next morning we headed from Wivenhoe in Essex all the way to Kessingland on the Suffolk coast – the East Anglian birding trip was now underway.

Kessingland is a coastal village near Lowestoft in northern Suffolk. It was situated just off the main road (A12), so there was no trouble in finding the village. Far less easy to find was Kessingland Sluice itself. Birdguides gave these details: ‘Follow signs to Suffolk Wildlife Park and after 0.5 miles park in the small car park on the right. Walk down the muddy track to view.’ The first part of this was relatively simple to follow, as we soon found a car park about half a mile from the A12, and also found the muddy track, which went through some woodland along the back of some houses. I thought that we would not have to walk far at all to get to the Sluice, but on entering the muddy track we found it to go on for around a mile... Eventually the path and woodland gave way to an area of reedbeds and a Caravan Park, with the sea in the far distance. Having already walked quite a way and not having the faintest clue where we were supposed to go, much to my frustration we called it quits and headed up towards the Broads for the afternoon. Although we didn’t make it to Kessingland Sluice, our visit wasn’t completely pointless. We encountered a vast area of bushes that looked absolutely ideal for passerine migrants at the right time of year, where I managed to connect with my first Whitethroats and Willow Warblers of the year. On top of this, there were several Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps around, and the song of a Cetti’s Warbler exploded from an area of reeds near the Caravan Park.

It was about 1 by the time we had made it all the way up the Suffolk coast to the Norfolk Broads. As soon as I arrived in the area I could see how picturesque it was – miles of flat land scattered with areas of marsh and reeds which was fringed by sand dunes. Prior to my arrival at Horsey Mere 2 Red-legged Partridge (yeartick) were sighted in a field a few miles from Winterton. I planned to check Horsey Mere for an hour or so before heading on to Waxham for the two Dotterels. Unfortunately, the first part of this plan was dented when we found after a few 100ms that the path to Horsey Mere reserve was cordoned off due to maintenance. This was yet another blow to what had been quite a frustrating day. I scanned the fragment of the marsh that I could see from the dead end to the path, managing to pick up 4 Marsh Harriers and a Kestrel distantly over the reeds, and then headed back to the car and onwards to Waxham. Waxham was a pretty short drive, but it took some effort to find the track and the area we were supposed to park in to access the dunes, which was behind Waxham Church. The Dotterels had been seen at the southeast side of the dunes in a field which could be viewed from the dunes behind the church and was supposedly 500m north of a ‘pipe dump’. With no reports all day as per Birdguides, my hopes were low. We walked across the dunes in the direction of the pipe dump which we easily sighted once up on the dunes. The area was very pretty, with an expansive beach to the east, the rest of the Broads to the west and some ideal migrant bushes just below the dunes. In these bushes, 2 Long-tailed Tits and a Blackcap were discovered. Having walked about half a mile, we bumped into a birder who had been looking for the Dotterels and he informed us that there was no sign. Nonetheless, he gave us directions to the field where they had been and we scanned it and the surrounding fields for about 15 minutes, but with no luck. With no sign of the Dotterels, on top of Horsey being inaccessible and Kessingland being too difficult to find, my heart had sank. Was this a day destined for disappointment? With the next stop being the North Norfolk coast, I dearly hoped things would change...

It was just after 4:30 by the time we had reached our B&B at Wells and dropped off our bags, having taken the exciting route along the coast past Cley. As we were about to head out it started bucketing down with rain – as if things couldn’t get worse! 20 minutes had passed before it stopped, and when it did a feeling relief and excitement swept over me. I was about to spend the evening at one of the North Norfolk’s premier sites, Holkham Pines and freshmarsh - a place I had been to once before. We parked at the end of Lady Ann’s drive, and headed towards the hides in the west. We didn’t plan to check the pines, but we had to walk through them to get to the hides and view the freshmarsh. Once out of the pines, the freshmarsh appeared in view and it wasn’t long before I was in Washington Hide. After what had been a bird-free day there were finally lots of birds to see, with the commoner wildfowl and marshland species present in good numbers. Very quickly, I was able to pick up two overdue year ticks in the form of a pair of Pochard on the freshmarsh and a Sedge Warbler in the reeds near the hide, As time progressed the presence of some more interesting birds were revealed. A few Little Egrets were present, as were 10 Egyptian Geese amongst the wildfowl on the pools, a delightful sight and a very valuable year tick considering that they were such a rare sight elsewhere. This gave me an adrenaline rush and I was inspired to scan the area more meticulously. In doing this, I spotted a group of 4 roosting Pink-footed Geese at the very back of the freshmarsh, and with them was a far sandier brown goose with noticeable black markings on the belly. My immediate and very strong suspicion was that it was White-fronted Goose, but I was unable to see the bill due to it roosting so I was not 100% certain on the ID. I determinedly kept on the bird and patiently waited for it to raise its head. After about 5 minutes it stopped roosting and the white-front to the bill immediately confirmed that this was a White-fronted Goose (yeartick). I was immensely pleased with this spot as in Aberdeenshire White-fronted Goose is a noteworthy bird and therefore a species I’ve only seen on a few occasions before.

In confirming it, I got Dad onto the scope so he could have a look. As he got onto the bird I was scanning the freshmarsh with my bins, quite relaxed, until I caught onto two Spoonbills flying east high over the west end of the marsh at distance . My pulse increased dramatically in excitement as I immediately exclaimed to my Dad what I was seeing, keeping on the birds with the bins as I did so. Dad got onto them and we watched them as they flew towards Lady Ann’s Drive and eventually out of view. The spatula shaped bills on these adult birds were immediately obvious even at distance, as was the diagnostic extended neck rather than retracted necks that you’d see on egrets. I reported the birds on Birdguides quite quickly, noting that the time of the sighting was 18:20. I was pretty chuffed with myself, having found two pretty decent quality birds within minutes of one another. Suddenly, what had seemed a continually frustrating day had become very good! Spoonbill, however, was not a year-tick as I had seen one at Strathbeg just a couple of weeks before the trip.

The Freshmarsh from Washington Hide

We spent another 20 minutes or so in Washington Hide, enjoying views of the White-fronted Goose as it started showing itself off more and walking around. It was brilliant to see it alongside an Egyptian Goose at one point – two stunning species. We then moved onto Joe Jordan Hide. On the way we were both interrupted a reeling Grasshopper Warbler in an area of bushes very close by, a bird that was a huge bogey of mine up until last year. We stood patiently, searching for it and waiting to see if it would move from its cover. After a couple of minutes my Dad took a step forward towards the bush, at which point the bird in question was seen in flight briefly as it flew at speed into another area of bushes and proceeded to reel once again. This was only my second sighting of a Gropper, so I was overjoyed, albeit with views of the bird’s back for a few seconds!

I entered Joe Jordan Hide greatly enthused to see more decent birds. It wasn’t long before I spotted 3 Red-legged Partridge by a gate. 3 Marsh Harriers, 2 males and a female, were flying around close by, always a delightful spectacle. However, this didn’t beat an even more captivating sight. There was an area of bare trees more or less directly in front of the hide but a fair distance away, part of which was hidden by the brow of a steep area of ground, and in these trees roosted several Grey Herons, Cormorants, Rooks and best of all, Little Egrets. There were 6 of them, favouring areas of the trees close to the Grey Herons. The best thing about this was though that not only was I seeing a few of the birds on the roost, but right in front of my eyes I was able to witness many Little Egrets flying in as they arrived to join this large tree roost. Whilst sat in Joe Jordan Hide, a total of 10 Little Egrets flew in as the sun set and joined the roost, some landing below the brow of the hill but most landing in the open, although generally quite low on the trees – the Cormorants and Rooks had the tops of the trees covered. It was one of those moments that is hard to describe evocatively - both the arrival of the Little Egrets and the mass roost of all these species - it was just too breathtaking!!

Whilst totally engrossed in this, I became distracted as a Peregrine zipped through at high speed at close range, sending the birds on the marsh into frenzy. At the same time, the Marsh Harriers were on the wing. That wasn’t it in terms of raptors in view though. As the Peregrine flew low over the ground, it in turned flushed a resting female Hen Harrier which had previously been out of view. Things couldn’t have been more awesome or dramatic! The Peregrine headed west at speed and quickly went of view, but the Hen Harrier didn’t move anywhere in a hurry. It proceeded to fly above the tree roost briefly and then started wheeling round towards the hide. Totally thrilled, I watched it come closer and closer towards the hide. As it flew past within 20ft of the hide, I was truly stunned. They are beautiful birds, and the binocular views of this bird were just out of this world when it passed in front of the hide. After this, it disappeared around the back of the hide. Birding couldn’t have been more epic: a Peregrine flushing a Hen Harrier which did a fly past by the hide, witnessing the roosting of Little Egrets, finding two Spoonbills and a White-fronted Goose, seeing a Gropper and Egyptian Geese – Jesus Christ!

View out from Joe Jordan Hide

I left Joe Jordan Hide and headed back towards the car feeling over the moon. In the golden sunset, I watched 5 more Little Egrets head towards the tree roost. Back by Washington Hide, I watched in admiration at the silhouettes of a pair of Marsh Harriers as they cavorted along by the reeds and the last flickers of sun peeped through the deepening darkness. Finally, in the Pines themselves, we chanced upon a grazing Muntjack Deer, which stopped what it was doing and bounded off into the trees. This wonderful visit to Holkham meant the day had lost its poor status and had become a great day’s birding – or should I say evening’s birding! This was Norfolk showing it’s unbelievable quality, and with a full day at the top sites with young birder Simeon Grundy imminent the next morning, I was hoping the quality would continue...

Holkham Pines in the Sunset

The Freshmarsh in the Sunset

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, 9 July 2011

Plan For Getting Blog Up To Date + Changes to Blog

Hello all, I'm very sorry for the complete lack of posts on this blog recently, I've had exams and on top of that have now embarked on my Higher (equivalent of A-level) courses which has already required a lot of me. Consequently I've been inundated by work and unable to have much time to update this blog.

As to be expected from the lack of posting, I have a lot to catch up on as I've been birding regularly whilst not writing this at all. At the moment I am still to write my brief trip to Norfolk back in April! Once that's done, I have the rest of April and the whole of May and June to account, plus any other birding days from this point onwards! I certainly have a lot to do, but due to it being the summer holidays I will do my best to get the blog up to date as soon as possible. Below is my basic plan of how I'll get about getting up to date with this blog.

1. Finish writing up Norfolk trip

2. Write a 'Rest of the Month' review for April

3. Write Monthly Reviews for May and June (excluding days in which I saw White-winged Scoter and Black Scoter locally, which will get their own post)

4. Write a special post accounting the events behind seeing White-winged Scoter and Black Scoter off Blackdog/Murcar

5. Write up a trip report on my upcoming trip to Islay and Mull in the same format as last year's Fair Isle trip (as a tabbed page).

My aim is to be up to date within just over a month. I can't promise that will happen, but I'll do my best! Writing up my upcoming trip to Islay and Mull in page format (like the Fair Isle trip report) will be of great assistance to me as it means I can write up all the monthly reviews and local days alongside writing the trip report, thus enhancing the speed of getting the blog up to date. I am determined to get up to date as I don't want to let this blog go like my old one. I will commence with the above plan in the next couple of days, any comments and feedback would still be much appreciated even though I will very likely be posting at a quick rate. If you wish to keep up with my latest sightings whilst I attempt to get up to date, please click the tab marked with this name below the blog's title photo.

NOTE: On top of the creation of this plan, I have decided to make 'Tabs' to contain my trip reports and yearly reviews respectively, each containing links to all previously written trip reports and yearly reviews. For all trip reports, click on the tab 'Trip Reports' under my title photo. Do the same for yearly reviews on a tab marked 'Yearly Reviews' . To read the trip reports or yearly reviews copy and paste one of the several links given into your address bar. Recently completed trip reports or yearly reviews will appear as seperate tabs from the 'Trip Reports' and 'Yearly Reviews' tabs for a certain amount of time until they too appear as links within those tabs.

Thanks for reading,