Sunday, 20 December 2015

November birding

November 2015

2 November 2015 Titchwell, Norfolk

A walk out to the sea stopping in the Island Hide where large numbers of waders and wildfowl were feeding or roosting out on the freshmarsh. There were two groups of sleeping Swans which turned out to be 12 Bewick's and 5 Whooper. The local Mute's seemed unimpressed by the presence of the Whoopers, chasing them around the pool with wings raised and necks arched. Golden Plovers, a few Ruff and numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit and Knot sat in the shallow shoals and large numbers of Teal, Wigeon and plenty of Pintail were feeding around the pool.

The local Mute Swan takes exception to the Whooper Swans
Sleeping group of Bewick's Swan
A few Red-breasted Merganser were on the sea. On the walk back a Jack Snipe was watched roosting beside a brackish pool over the counter wall, before it dropped down and began feeding in the pool with a Redshank. Three Spotted Redshank were watched on the brackish pools. As we walked back flocks of Pink-footed Geese were arriving off the sea building numbers for the winter.

Jack Snipe on the Saltmarsh

7 November 2015 - Cley, Norfolk

A Red Kite was circling over the woods behind Walsingham as we arrived early Saturday morning. After the rain cleared we headed out to Cley, via the brilliant Birdscapes Gallery. We parked at the East Bank and walked around the new reserve towards Salthouse, back along the beach and down the East Bank. A juvenile Peregrine was spooking all the birds over Pope's Marsh. As the rain stopped 6 Marsh Harriers circled up out of the reed bed. 2 Water Pipit were heard calling in flight, but didn't land in view. Loads of Teal, Wigeon, a Shoveler, and a single Tufted Duck were on the marsh.

A pre-roost of Gulls on Arnold's Marsh produced nothing odd, just numbers of Black-headed, a few Common, Herring, Lesser Black-back and Great Black-back. Curlews and Redshank, Dunlin and a few Black-tailed Godwit. Overhead a flock of Golden Plover flew west. As we walked back along the East Bank a few Bearded Tits were heard calling from the reed bed.

Stunning skies over the sea at Cley

8 November 2015 Titchwell, Norfolk

I decided to spend the morning at Titchwell, but delayed by departure due to thick fog. It turned out to be patchy along the coast with clear skies at Holkham and west of Brancaster. A Common Buzzard on sallows to west of the track and a juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard was seen sitting low down on a woodpile. Four Marsh Harriers were hunting over fields and reedbed. 

At least 2 Bramblings were calling around the feeders, with plenty of Siskin and Goldfinch also heard. Thornham Pool produced 4 Water Pipit, though mainly distant views. There was no sign of the Jack Snipe in the cut reeds beside the footpath, or the Shore Lark along Thornham Point, though a male Snow Bunting flew over as I returned along the beach. A Greenshank flushed from mud and 150 Dark-bellied Brent's in the creek. 

Offshore a Black-necked Grebe was unusual and a female Long-tailed Duck was feeding in the surf. Also 4 Red-breasted Merganser, a Red-throated Diver and several Great-crested Grebe with the usual Gannets in the distance. A single Fieldfare struggled in off. Walking back 2 Spotted Redshank were watched in the usual spot on the brackish marsh. The freshmarsh produced loads of common ducks and the usual waders. 

I checked Thornham Pool again on the way back. 4 littoralis Rock Pipit and at least 4 Water Pipit plus a brief odd pied wagtail that should have grabbed my attention - an Amur was reported later. Regular flocks of Pinks flew noisily overhead. 

I saw that the Rough-legged Buzzard was still sitting on the back of the woodpile out of the strong southerly breeze so I turned right to Thornham and found somewhere to view  across the field that gave superb views of the bird. It sat for over an hour occasionally preening and wing stretching but resolutely sat on its perch with no real intent to hunt. Stunner.

13 November 2015 - Warham Greens

Arrived in North Norfolk late afternoon. I drove from a meeting in Luton and saw five Red Kites before on my journey, one as I left the hotel, 2 along the A505, one in the Brecks and 2 over the wood at Walsingham as I arrived at the cottage. With the evening drawing in we headed quickly over to Warham Greens for the harrier roost. Five Hen Harriers were great to see; 3 ringtail (including a young male) and 2 ghostly adult males, a hunting Sparrowhawk, a brief juv Peregrine and a Marsh Harrier. At least a dozen Little Egrets, Curlews, Starlings in small numbers going west and several flocks of Brent's were also seen out over the marsh. The strong cold wind made the visit less than pleasant and Mac quickly returned to the car for shelter.

14 November 2015 - Titchwell

My first bird of the day was a Barn Owl in the rough field opposite the cottage before I'd even opened the front door. A flock of Pink-footed Geese flew west in the distance and a second Barn Owl was hunting at Burnham Norton.

Titchwell was cold and windy. A super juvenile Merlin was sat on a post to the west of the track by the Visitor Centre. There was no sign of the Jack Snipe anywhere on the reserve, though 3 Spotted Redshank were still feeding in the tidal pool. On the freshmarsh typical ducks and waders included 3 Ruff, a few Avocet, Black-tailed Godwits, a big roost of Bar-tailed Godwits, 25 Dunlin and a couple of Knot. On the sea distant Common Scoters, 5 Red-breasted Merganser, a couple of GC grebe and 2 Guillemot and a Razorbill. Two Marsh Harrier were hunting over the reedbed. A few Meadow Pipit and a couple of Pied Wagtails but no Water Pipit in the rather breezy conditions. I drove the Choseley lanes finding 150 Pinks, a flock of 15 fieldfare and 3 Common Buzzard.

15 November 2015 - Cley

Another very windy day. We dropped into Cley after lunch at the White Horse in Blakeney, checking the Dark-bellied Brent Goose flock in the Eye Field. The adult Black Brant was picked out but only distant views and a couple of Marsh Harrier were hunting over the reserve. I had planned to visit Warham Greens at dusk for the harrier roost, but changed my mind at the last minute - bugger! A Pallid Harrier flew in just after I would have arrived.....

21 November 2015 - Sheringham, Norfolk

With a forecast for an unprecedented force 9-10 northerly gale blowing down the North Sea I couldn't resist a sea watch at Sheringham.I arrived early enough to bag a seat in the eastern most shelter with the locals, including James McCallum and Kevin Shepherd. A little later we were joined by Lee Evans.

The gale materialised and produced a superb and mixed passage of birds in very rough high seas and changeable weather, with occasional squally showers. Wildfowl were constantly moving west with skuas initially west and latterly east and other birds both ways. It was pretty hard to keep track with birds moving both ways along the beach, over the shelter, at at every range to the horizon. Sometimes the scope was ideal, often binoculars and occasionally naked eye. A constant movement and some really good birds and numbers. 

The highlight were the Goldeneye, and a couple of stonking drake Goosander, a close juvenile Long-tailed Skua, 4 Great-northern Diver, a Leach's Petrel, a dozen Poms, good numbers of Great Skua and at least 20 Little Auk. I managed to miss a couple of sightings of Grey Phalarope, seen by birders sat either side of me, but in the circumstances so did many in the shelter. The shelter proved protective even in direct northerlies, but my car fared much worse, somehow getting its windscreen smashed by flying debris in the road behind the cliffs.
  • Great skua - 200 
  • Pomarine skua - 12 (incl 1 spooned adult) 
  • Arctic Skua - 1 
  • Fulmar - 5 
  • Manx shearwater - 3 
  • Sooty shearwater - 3 
  • Kittiwake - 1,500 
  • Little gull - 50 
  • Guillemot - 250 
  • Razorbill - 3 
  • Little auk - 20 
  • Gannet - 500 
  • Great-northern Diver - 4 
  • Black-throated Diver - 1 
  • Red-throated Diver - 10 
  • Great-crested grebe - 6 
  • Red-necked grebe - 2 
  • Leach's Petrel - 1 
  • Mallard - 30 
  • Teal - 300 
  • Wigeon - 1,000 
  • Pintail - 100 
  • Shoveler - 5 
  • Common Scoter - 200 
  • Velvet Scoter - 4 
  • Eider - 5 ad 
  • Goosander - 2 drake 
  • Red-breasted Merganser - 5 
  • Goldeneye - 143 
  • Scaup - 2 fem 
  • Tufted Duck - 15 
  • Pochard - 1 
  • Starling - 50 in 
  • Snipe - 2 
  • Dunlin - 350 
  • Knot - 15 
  • Bar tailed Godwit - 6 
  • Lapwing - 4 
  • Grey plover - 10 
  • Golden plover - 12 
  • Curlew - 6 
  • Oystercatcher - 2 
  • Shelduck - 50 
  • Brent Goose - 300 
  • Pale-bellied Brent - 1 
  • Turnstone - 10

22 November 2015

After the thrilling seawatch I wanted a quieter day, so drove along the coast road to Snettisham before dawn. A Barn Owl on a roadside sign at burnham Norton and a woodcock that blasted across the road in front of my car were nice.

Arrived to a cold and crisp morning that turned sunny later. Initially quite still with the wind increasing to N 3. I walked south along the beach. There were vast areas of exposed mud covered with loads of Shelduck. The pits held about 7 Goldeneye and 3 Red-breasted Merganser among the Wigeon and Teal. A couple of Snipe dropped into the pools while overhead several flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare and countless flocks of several thousand Starling moved through. Occasional Redpolls were heard flying overhead.

At the southern end of the reserve I scanned the salt marsh seeing a Common Buzzard, 3 Marsh Harrier, a Merlin and a Kestrel, but unfortunately did not see the Pallid Harrier that was hunting behind me! Ouch. The guy who saw it was bouncing when he told me because of the amazing close up fly by. Bugger. He was unsure where it went, not helpful, but understandable in his excitement.

I waited for over an hour and then warmed up behind the hide. A male Hen Harrier quartered the salt marsh in the distance. Then from less than 5m from where I had earlier been stood the juvenile Pallid Harrier took flight? I ran closer to get a view but it had vanished again. It surely couldn't have gone far? I walked through the sueada along a path. Nothing. I stood quietly and waited. Still nothing. Suddenly as I turned around there it was flying across the path behind me. Some grabbed shots and some brief scope views as it flew away and over the bank. Awesome.

Juvenile Pallid Harrier - Snettisham

I raced to the bank but couldn't relocate it and despite waiting for another 45 minutes saw no further sign. I walked back stopping to check a flock of about 100 Golden Plover that flew off the fields to the mud. Nice views but nothing unexpected among them.

I headed back north to Thornham Harbour. As I set off along the sea wall a superb male Twite flew in, settled on the weeds and began singing. Out along the dunes I eventually found the three Shore Lark feeding in some low weeds. I checked the large full roost around the harbour entrance as the tide rose and scanned over the sea where a Long-tailed Duck flew west, a few Guillemot, 2 Red-breasted Merganser and several Common Scoter. Two juv Gannet went east along the beach. I wandered back as the clouds darkened seeing 2 Stonechat along the wall and checking the gulls one last time. A splendid day.

Male Twite - Thornham Harbour
Adult Shore Lark - Thornham Harbour
Three Shore Larks at Thornham Harbour
A storm arrives of the sea over Thornham

Back at the car park just in time
The rain arrived as I drove back through Hunstanton creating a number of dramatic rainbows, that followed me south on my journey home.

Blakeney Seals

13 December 2015

Blakeney Point, Norfolk

We arrived in the Cley beach car park at dawn and set off up the 3 miles of shingle on a beautifully still, calm morning. Our objective was to see some of the Grey Seal colony that inhabits the Point. About halfway out we encountered the first large beached bull Seal, which allowed surprisingly close approach, barely lifting its huge head to acknowledge our presence. Further along flat trails in the shingle showed where others had hauled out or crossed the path. 

As we reached the grassy ridges the first female and small pups were found. The females were very protective, moving themselves between us and their fluffy white offspring. However at three weeks old the pups are left to moult, surviving of the huge amount of blubber they develop in that short space of time (they more than triple their body weight in that time). These proved perfect photographic subjects and with the soft morning light we enjoyed the next hour or so in the company of these fantastic animals, watching all the activity on the edge of the colony. 

Over 2,500 pups have been born this season, and they arrive over a protracted period with everything from new borns to heavily moulted more mature juveniles seen. The bulls were becoming more territorial with the odd bloody fight breaking out around the females, which come into season soon after giving birth.