Wednesday, 29 March 2017

A surprisingly good end to March

25 March 2017

The Brecks

I arrived at Santon Downham at dawn with the hope of finding Otters. I checked the river to the east of the bridge finding three superb Mandarins in the early morning mist. Great-spotted Woodpeckers were drumming, Nuthatches were calling and Treecreepers singing, but no Otters.


I then walked west along the footpath. As I reached the Poplars a movement in the water gave away the presence of the hoped for Otter and it was feeding just feet from the bank. Brilliant views. When it swam out a small cub was in tow and both gave good views along the far bank. Fantastic!

The cub joins its mum in sprainting the same patch

As the Otters disappeared I walked further along finding Green and Great-spotted Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Siskins and Redpolls. A female Lesser-spotted Woodpecker flew in and was shortly joined by a smart male. As the pair interacted a Great-spotted Woodpecker flew in landing on their preferred dead trunk. What followed was amazing as the two, tiny Lesser's each mobbed the Great, even striking it on the back of its head and eventually driving it away. They then flew to another tree and after a few more minutes faded into the background and away. 

Male Lesser-spotted Woodpecker
Preening after its encounter with the Great-spotted

As the crowds started to arrive I headed back to the car passing a smart Grey Wagtail along the way and incredibly finding another Otter close in to the bank near the bridge.

Grey Wagtail
The third Otter of the morning
Next stop was a nearby Goshawk site. I was there before 08:30 and the weather looked perfect - sunny, light breeze, and warming nicely. It wouldn't be long.....

After an hour I'd seen 5 Sparrowhawks, 10 Buzzards and 3 Kestrels, but not a sniff of a Goshawk. Well last year they didn't display much before 10:00, so maybe they were having a lay in. Another hour passed. Still nothing, though a flock of 62 Fieldfare flew over.

A couple of Red Kite appeared and increasing numbers of Buzzards circled up on the rising thermals, with up to 8 in a single spiral. Woodlarks and Skylarks were singing, occasionally overhead and a Yellowhammer flew over. Eventually he Wood Pigeons spooked hinting at something nearby, and a few minutes later a Goshawk flew out of the close trees, low down and away into the woods. Another 30 more minutes a juvenile Goshawk circled up and over the distant woods, but by 11:30 with the Buzzards settling down and little showing I decided to take a walk through the nearby woods.

I found 6 Marsh Tit, 2 Brambling and a noisy flock of Siskin and Redpoll. I also found a surprise couple of Stone Curlew in a nearby field. On my return I scanned the woods again and found a (presumably the) juvenile Goshawk circling for about 15 minutes before it dropped down and disappeared. 

After lunch I headed out towards New Holkham and scanned the now famous stubble field. A couple of Marsh Harrier, 3 Red Kites, 6 Buzzards and a Kestrel. I was just settling in when I decided to glance down at my phone and check the recent sightings on Birdguides. Just minutes earlier and before the message had arrived a Red-flanked Bluetail had been reported from Titchwell - in March, and just a few miles away! I didn't wait for more news, just jumped in the car and headed straight there. 

I arrived to find a growing group of birders spread around various points of the Meadow Trail. I met Paul Eele who said it had been showing well, flycatching near the pond, but had just vanished into the Willows. After a while someone caught a glimpse and the crowd gathered, but the path was too narrow and viewing difficult. Another 15 minutes and it was glimpsed on the opposite side. I waited back near the pond hoping it might circuit around, but after ten minutes I walked around to where it had last been only for it to appear back at the original spot. Since the infamous Winspit bird I've seen a few Bluetails and all have fed around small circuits, returning to the same spots, so I waited it out. As the crowd gathered near the latest sighting I stood on the boardwalk. Suddenly a movement, a flick and there it was - stunner. 

Red-flanked Bluetail
Over the next hour or so I got several more good views as it settled in one area lit by the last rays of afternoon sunshine. Of all the birds I'd have even dreamed of seeing today, Red-flanked Bluetail was not on the list - this just evidences what makes birding such an exciting and unpredictable hobby.

26 March 2017

I spent most of the day working in the house. After finishing and tidying up we decided to have a long walk from Burnham Norton to Brancaster and back. This took us out across the fresh marsh onto the sea wall and then along the raised bank passing Scolt Head Island and some superb looking fresh water habitat. We saw a couple of Buzzard and two Marsh Harrier, a few Avocet, a Ruff and a good flock of Brent and Wigeon, as well as other common duck - Mallard, Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler. 

On the return a flock of 7 Pintail flew right overhead. Just as we reached the return path I  scanned across the salt marsh towards Scolt Head, hoping I might find a Hen Harrier. As I reached 2/3 of the way across the scan a slim ringtail Harrier incredibly flew into view, flushing Brent Geese and Curlews from the salt marsh. Lit by the lovely late afternoon sun  it turned to reveal those now familiar peach underparts, it's slim wings confirming my first impression - the 1w female Pallid Harrier. It flew quite quickly along the suaeda bank, turned and circled over an area, hovering gently before circling again then dropping behind the vegetation and out of view. 

I walked back to meet Mac who had walked further down the path. As we walked back she asked if the Bluetail was still at Titchwell, and when I said it had been showing she asked if she could go and see it. Well I didn't need to be asked twice and we were soon on the car heading along the coast road. We arrived almost perfectly as the sun dropped, lighting the now familiar bushes at the start of the Fen Trail. I walked down the main path finding a group of disconsolate birders who seemed to have largely given up. I didn't stop, but walked down the Fen Trail for 30m, looked into the backlot bushes and instantly saw the Bluetail flick up to catch a fly. I waited a few minutes and Mac joined me. I pointed to the area I'd seen it and sure enough it appeared. Good views before it moved towards the main path where the remaining birders picked it up. However the best was yet to come. We walked back along the Fen Trail to our original spot and it flicked into the near bushes. Mac encouraged it out saying 'come closer' and it did, and then 'turn around' as it did, showing first its blue tail and then its lovely orange flanks and white throat. We got great views before others caught on and it moved back into cover. What a treat.

The Bluetail flicks into close view
Showing off it's blue tail
Big white eye ring - stunning!
And then turns to show off its orange flanks and neat white throat

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Goshawks and more of the Harrier

5 March 2017


In a quick look around Egmere and New Holkham I failed to relocate the Pallid Harrier before I decided to drive south to Breckland. I did see a super Barn Owl at Crabbe Castle Farm, briefly perched beside the road. 

I arrived at my chosen destination at 08:30. Within five minutes 2 Goshawk (an adult male and imm female) were circling over the woods. Not long after a stunning adult female rose from the woods and circled round showing its flared white undertail coverts and huge frame. The adult male displayed above it, circling and slow flapping. Next up three birds chased and displayed together, 2 male and a young female, a rather pale juvenile flew through and a dark juvenile appeared from the west. About 09:45 it started to rain and surprisingly two Goshawks continued to display, until the rain got heavier and they descended into the woods. At least 10 Buzzard included a distinctive white bellied grey headed bird and 3-4 Sparrowhawk were also seen. A Woodlark was singing unseen nearby and Mistle Thrush and Fieldfare were also seen. 

With the rain falling heavily I headed back to Fakenham and then stopped briefly at New Holkham where I had brief views of the female Pallid Harrier over the stubble just as the rain arrived. A Red kite and a Buzzard were also seen around the field. 

I returned home and after some DIY returned to New Holkham with Mac. We soon located the Pallid Harrier which have superb views over the next hour before it circled up high and over into Holkham Park. A Med Gull called as it circled over. A quick look at Holkham freshmarsh produced a brief Spoonbill and 150 White-fronts of note plus at least 8 Marsh Harrier and 2 Buzzard. 

The Harrier circles up over the trees

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Pallid Harrier performs

4 March 2017

Egmere and New Holkham

Last Friday a probable Pallid Harrier was reported from Egmere. As Egmere is just a stones throw away from the Hen Harrier roost at Warham Greens I immediately thought if there was a Pallid Harrier in the area it would surely be roosting there in the evenings. With no reports from Warham on Friday I could not resist an early start. I was there not long after dawn, and not long after Eddie. He had seen an early departing Hen Harrier and over the next couple of hours we saw another three ringtails, one of which showed really well along the edge of the Saltmarsh. We also saw a close Merlin, 8 Bewick's Swan flew east, 2 Marsh Harrier, a Kestrel, a Barn Owl and a Mediterranean Gull. However there was no sign of a Pallid Harrier, so I did a short drive around the lanes to Egmere and back - nothing.

I returned to Warham in the late afternoon, seeing 3 grey male, and 4-5 ringtail Hen Harrier, 4 Marsh Harrier, 2 Merlin, a Kestrel and 3 Spoonbill, but again nothing resembling a Pallid Harrier.

I didn't try Sunday morning, being confident it hadn't come into roost on Saturday, but was back Sunday evening. A 2nd winter Glaucous Gull came off the beach and flew onto the Saltmarsh, a Sparrowhawk, 2 Merlin, a Peregrine, 7 Marsh Harrier, a Buzzard, a Kestrel, 3 grey male and 4 ringtail Hen Harrier were all seen. One of the ringtails was a juvenile that showed an apricot wash to the underparts, little streaking on the belly, strong facial markings and a weak collar. We had good views and it was definitely a Hen, but could this have been the bird reported from Egmere....?

However on Monday news came through that the Pallid Harrier had been photographed and those photos confirmed the ID as Pallid. During the week it was seen occasionally and mainly around Egmere and New Holkham. 

So first thing this morning I headed down the lane towards Egmere. As I reached the end near Crabbe Castle Farm a bird of prey was flying along the ridge to my right. Glancing over I saw a long, thin winged raptor with a long, drooping and apparently forked tail - I assumed it was a Red Kite and decided to pull up to view it. As I raised my bins I was somewhat taken aback to see the Red Kite had the plumage of a Pallid Harrier! I grabbed the camera and raced further up the lane hoping to intercept it. I managed a few shots in the gloom before it flew over the B1105. I followed it over, but it switched back and by the time I'd turned back around and got across the road it had vanished.

After 15 minutes searching the lanes I drove back down the Egmere lane and stopped at a suitable vantage point. As I scanned the distant hillside and valley I saw something in the distant field. Through the scope I could see it was the harrier and after a while it flew back towards me across the fields and over the hedge. It led me a merry dance for the next 30 minutes or so, during which time I even found a female Hen Harrier perched in the hedge, before I refound it heading back towards Crabbe Castle. I got ahead of it predicting its path. As I got out of the car and walked over to the opening the harrier came through it right past me and away over the B1105 - not sure who was most surprised.

Over the road I located it on the ground, sat next to a Marsh Harrier. Suddenly the Marsh Harrier took flight and the Pallid pursued, harried it until the much larger Marsh dropped its prey, which the Pallid picked up and took away to a nearby field. 

After eating it the Pallid flew down the valley over a hedge, but I soon located it sitting in a stubble field. Over the next 2 hours it gave brilliant scope views on the ground, eating some carrion, sat with a female Hen Harrier and mobbed by a Merlin. With several Red Kite, Buzzard and a Sparrowhawk the raptor spectacle continued.

At lunchtime we had a short walk from Walsey Hills to Salthouse seeing a Pale-bellied Brent Goose among the flock, 2 Stonechat, a hunting Peregrine over the marsh and a Kestrel.

Late afternoon I was back at Warham Greens. The 2nd winter Glaucous Gull flew east along the beach, a Spoonbill was seen distantly on the marsh, a Barn Owl flew out to East Hills being mobbed on the way out by a Herring Gull and attacked by a Hen Harrier on its return, 2 Merlin, 2 Peregrine, 3 female and a grey male Hen Harrier, 3 Marsh Harrier and 4 Buzzard. We also had a group of 6 Stonechat move west along the flotsam line.