Thursday, 19 February 2015

Norfolk - 23rd-25th January 2015

I did my annual winter trip to Norfolk slightly later than usual this year, going on Friday 23rd January. Once again I stayed with my mate Chris at his B&B in Sheringham, and this time he joined me from the first day.

I pretty much followed my usual pattern: coming from Yorkshire on Friday morning to arrive at Wolferton around dawn, then heading north and east round the coast throughout the day, calling in at places like Roydon Common, Hunstanton, Holme, Thornham, Titchwell, Holkham and others, and ending at Cley and Salthouse.

Friday highlights were the trusty male Golden Pheasant at Wolferton; Woodcock, Green Woodpecker and good numbers of Fieldfare and Redwing at a lovely, frosty Roydon (while dipping a Great Grey Shrike); around 50 Twite, Sparrowhawk, lots of Brent Geese and good numbers of common waders at Thornham Harbour; two Water Pipit, Spotted Redshank, Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit at Titchwell, although the beach was quite quiet with Bar-tailed Godwit and Goldeneye the best birds; a very pale Common Buzzard at Holkham, and circa 200 White-fronted Geese with the massed Greylags, Canadas, Pink-feet, Egyptians, and Wigeon; and six Bearded Tits showing very well in fading light on the East Bank at Cley.

 Golden Pheasant, Wolferton, Norfolk - Friday 23rd January 2015

  Teal, Titchwell, Norfolk - Friday 23rd January 2015

  Black-tailed Godwit, Titchwell, Norfolk - Friday 23rd January 2015

  Curlew, Titchwell, Norfolk - Friday 23rd January 2015

  Black-headed-Gull, Titchwell, Norfolk - Friday 23rd January 2015

  Common Buzzard, Holkham, Norfolk - Friday 23rd January 2015
  White-fronted Geese, Holkham, Norfolk - Friday 23rd January 2015

Usually, I go to the Yare Valley for the Taiga Been, White-fronted, Pinked-footed, and maybe feral Barnacle Geese on the Saturday, then Great Yarmouth for Mediterranean Gulls, ending at Stubb Mill for the Common Cranes and raptor roost, having called in at other sites en route. This year we started from Sheringham heading in the opposite direction, calling in at Weybourne to check out the Pink-footed Goose flock, picking out a Tundra Bean Goose.

We headed on to Burnham Overy and found a group of birders looking for two juvenile Rough-legged Buzzards. Looking north, they'd picked up lots of Common Buzzards as they flew over the fields by the A149, but found nothing else so they moved on. Clearly they hadn't been looking far enough. I soon found the Rough-legged Buzzards in the air over the dunes towards the coast, each with a big white tail with a broad, dark distal band, along with the almost square dark carpal block on the pale underside of the long wings. Plenty of Grey Partridge in the area to add to Red-legs seen at Weybourne.

Red Kite and Sparrowhawk at Holkham brought the raptor species count to a decent six by 10am as we headed to Lynford Arboretum for a single Hawfinch in the paddock and a few Brambling near the feeders. We got brief but good views of a Great Grey Shrike at Santon Downham, making up for yesterday's dip, and a few more Brambling (seemingly more common than in Yorkshire this winter).

  Great Grey Shrike - Santon Downham, Suffolk - 24th January 2015

Chris was starting to feel ill with what would develop into a week-long flu, so we headed to Great Yarmouth for Med Gulls, a fry up and some beer, which Chris insisted would help him better prepare for a cold couple of hours stood around at the Stubb Mill raptor roost! Well, it didn't really work, and Chris sat shivering in the car while I watched 20+ Marsh Harriers, 4 Hen Harriers (including a beautiful adult male), Common Buzzards, a Sparrowhawk and Kestrel come in to roost. A single Common Crane on the deck was all I managed, but I left before it was really dark for the sake of Chris's health.

Chris was too poorly to get out of bed on Sunday (in fact, he stayed there until Wednesday afternoon). I can sympathise now, because by Monday night I 'd developed the same symptoms and had to spend the rest of the week off work feeling really rough.

So Sunday I was on my own, and I slowly made my way across the country towards Lincolnshire, the A17/A1 and home, calling in at a couple of sites first. I went back to Cley to locate the Snow Buntings which had been reported a few days earlier along the shingle bank towards Salthouse. I asked a few birders along the East Bank if they'd seen them and drew a blank. One birder watching the Bearded Tits to the west of the bank told me there was a Twite flock bobbing around the north end of the bank and on Arnold's Marsh, and I took his word for it...

I headed off towards Salthouse and found the c60 Snow Buntings by the Sea Pool behind the breached shingle bank. This was the first time I'd been to this spot since the storm surge in December 2013. I had a good 3G signal so tweeted the news of the Snow Buntings there and then, and tagged that birder's Twite info on the end of the tweet. When I walked back to the East Bank I found what must have been the "Twite" flock, commuting between the path and marshes on either side. It didn't take me long to realise they were Linnet. I couldn't find the supposed Twite at all. Two flock theory? Hmmm... I'd learnt a lesson about taking other birders' word as gospel! I make enough mistakes of my own without broadcasting other people's. Later, when I got a phone signal again near Fakenham, I received my own dodgy "Twite" news from BirdGuides. Grrr. I deleted the tweet and vowed to never make that mistake again. 

As I walked back along the East Bank, I could see in the distance the birder who'd told me about the "Twite". He was off the path and down the bottom on the bank near the reeds! Right where the Beardies were! Eh?! Before I got within 100 metres of him he came up the bank and headed off in the other direction, into the reserve proper. A stringer and a flusher.

  Bearded Tit - Cley, Norfolk - 25th January 2015

  Snow Bunting - Cley, Norfolk - 25th January 2015

Breached shingle bank - Salthouse-Cley, Norfolk - 25th January 2015

 Arnold's Marsh - Cley, Norfolk - 25th January 2015

 Little Egret - Cley, Norfolk - 25th January 2015

 Looking west from the end of the East Bank - Cley, Norfolk - 25th January 2015

After some breakfast (Chris would normally do my a tip-top fry-up at his B&B), I headed towards Sculthorpe Moor, taking a few back roads to check for Grey and Red-legged Partridges and Corn Buntings. I like Sculthorpe as a reserve, but I'd been wondering about visiting, and thus lending my support to the Hawk and Owl Trust who own it. This is because of their position on ways forward in the Grouse Moor / Hen Harrier debate. Their chairman, Philip Merricks, says he and the Trust will support brood management of Hen Harriers, a scheme to which I am completely opposed. Brood management is just another way for grouse moor owners and their goons to effectively eradicate Hen Harriers from our moorland. I figured paying the £3 entrance fee wouldn't amount to support for that policy, though I'm starting to feel I made the wrong decision now.

It's a nice set of habitats though, and always really quiet. Marsh Tits were calling in the woodland and frequently visiting the various feeders. Three Brambling was no where near the 20+ I saw here last year. The area to the right of the Whitley Hide is usually good for Water Rail, but this area had been cleared recently. I did see a Water Rail on a pool in the woodland around 50 metres from the visitor centre. A female Muntjac Deer was happily eating the fallen seeds under on of the forest feeders. Really nice to get good, prolonged views. Good views of a Kingfisher in the sunshine from Victor's Hide was a bonus on an otherwise quiet morning.

Muntjac Deer - Sculthorpe Moor, Norfolk - 25th January 2015

View from the Whitley Hide - Sculthorpe Moor, Norfolk - 25th January 2015

I decided to head back home in the early afternoon, so I'd at least be driving most of the way in daylight for once. A great trip, with great birds, tainted only by Chris's flu. We'll probably do it all again next year...

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Laughing Gull, New Brighton, Cheshire - 7th February 2015

Laughing Gull - New Brighton, Cheshire - 7th February 2015

This first-winter Laughing Gull was first reported on 3rd February, but it wasn't until Saturday 7th before I could get over and check it out myself. It was a World lifer for me - the only trip to America where I'd been able to do any birding (in California) wasn't near this species' breeding or winter grounds.

When I arrived around 09:00 the bird was keeping a very low profile by the breakwater on the beach. It hid among the rocks, slowly making its way towards the lighthouse and back, accompanied by Turnstones. Its brief excursions out on to the sand to get food quickly drew the attention of the Herring Gulls, at least one which mugged the Laughing Gull, relieving it of its meal.

It was quite a small gull, about the size of a Black-headed Gull. The bill was long and dark, but with a red base. There was a dark smudgy mask covering the eyes, ear coverts and crown, leaving a white forehead. The neck and neck sides were grey. The back and median coverts were adult grey, whereas the other coverts retained the juvenile feathers. The outer wing was dark, and the tail had a black terminal band.

Half an hour later it had flown over to roost on the pontoon on the marine lake. In flight, the dark of the outer wings was very striking. The wings appeared long and from underneath the under-tail coverts made a white wedge into the black tail band.

On the pontoon, the bird continued to keep a low profile, and after being hassled again by the larger gulls it eventually hopped in amongst the Redshank to sleep. An interesting bird, if a little disconcerting to watch as it looked worse for wear and little uneasy with itself and its surroundings.