Saturday, 23 November 2013

Southend Pier and Sanderlings

We stayed in Essex today starting our day at Wallasea where we watched two Ring-tailed Hen Harriers hunting the marsh along with Marsh Harrier, Peregrine, Merlin and Kestrel. Corn Buntings were still present in good numbers with over a hundred counted during our visit and a pair of Bewick's Swans flew over the marsh and out of sight.
Corn Bunting
Hen Harrier at Wallasea
Despite the freezing temperatures we decided to try Southend Pier having read several blog posts recently detailing how good the views of Med Gulls have been. On arrival we paid the £1 entrance fee and walked the length of the pier. (A train runs at quarter to and quarter past the hour costing £4 for the return trip)
After our 1.34mile walk we arrived at the pier end to find several Turnstones and Med Gulls showing really well but although the sun was shining in a clear sky the wind was blowing in the wrong direction meaning that the gulls hanging in the air had the sun on their backs casting shadow over them and leaving photographic opportunities for another day. Mick and Dick turned up with stacks of bread which increased the mobility of the gulls but they still proved difficult subjects.
Med Gull on Southend Pier
After a nice chat we departed and moved on to our next target bird which was to find Sanderling on the high tide at Westcliff which we did with ease and after a spell lying on the sand I managed to get some acceptable shots of these wonderful Essex birds wintering on our coast.

Sanderling at Westcliff
Sanderling and Southend Pier
Southend Pier is the longest pleasure pier in the world, a grade 11 listed building 1.34miles long. Work started in July 1829 and during World War 11 the pier was taken over by the Navy and renamed HMS Leigh. In 2005 a fire threatened the structure but thankfully it survived with a little reconstruction and remains a top tourist attraction for Essex. 

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Pheasant Facts

Phasianus colchicus

The Common Pheasant
Over the last few weeks I've seen thousands of Pheasant on my travels around East Anglia.They are native to Asia and there is a school of thought that the Romans brought them to Britain although conclusive evidence is lacking on this count but what is known is that by the 10th century they were breeding wild in Britain and were common by the 15th century. During the 20th century the Pheasant represented a tiny percentage of the birds shot as game with the Grey Partridge making up the largest part of the bag but by the turn of the century the Pheasant had become 60% of the bag and remains the most taken game bird in the UK. Although the Pheasant is now a British breeding bird it's numbers are helped by the release of around 35 million birds annually with around 15 million of these falling to the shotgun with the open season for shooting the Pheasant running from 1st October to 1st February. Foxes predate a similar amount both before and during the game season with the others falling to road accidents and other predation. A very small percentage will survive to boost the wild population but it's very likely that the vast majority of released birds don't make their first birthday and the BTO longevity record for Pheasant stands at just 2 years and 1 month so the next time you see a Pheasant spare a thought for it's fight for survival.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Crossbills in Suffolk

With a frosty start forecast and hoping for blue skies we headed up the A11 to Suffolk in search of Crossbills this morning. A quick stop at Lackford Lakes where Sparrowhawk was the highlight of the walk although a blue Snow Goose was noted flying with the Canada Geese or at least we thought it was.
(Smaller than the Canada and Grey with a neat white head and orange feet.)
Arriving at our destination we parked up and waited and we were soon to find nine Crossbills visiting the forest pools to drink and give us opportunity to catch a couple of them with the camera. The weather didn't deliver for us as the skies remained very grey and dull but with increased ISO I managed a couple of reasonable pictures of these colourful birds.

A walk around Lakenheath gave brief views of Kingfisher, Bearded Tits and Marsh Harriers but the reserve was otherwise very quiet although we did notice a new hide being constructed.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

The last week in summary

After a week in Norfolk where I connected with 114 species and three new birds for the year I have decided to list a few of my favorite shots from the week. One of the added highlights of the week was watching the migration of Starlings, Thrushes and Woodpigeons as they all made the journey across the water to our shores and I watched thousands pouring in whilst on my daily sea watch from various Norfolk beaches.

I enjoyed good views of both Barn Owl and Short-eared Owl as well as hearing a good few Tawny Owls during the week.

Barn Owl
Short-eared Owl

Barn Owl
Of course the Grey Phalarope was the bird of the week and showed down to a few feet at times.

Grey Phalarope
With the Phalarope at Salthouse I of course enjoyed good views of the Turnstones with more distant views of Snow Bunting and a fly over Lapland Bunting too.

Turnstone at Salthouse
The Shore Larks at Yarmouth were another highlight if only the weather had been kinder for the camera.

Shore Lark at Great Yarmouth
And of course the Crossbills which are alway great to watch.

Female Crossbill
Male Crossbill
The Barn we stayed in was very comfortable and gave lovely views across open farmland and achieved our goal of being completely firework free to the delight of our dog who has a really hard time dealing with them.

Puddle Barn
Puddle Barn is in Matlaske about 6 miles south of Sheringham and about 9 miles from Cley Marsh so not a bad location for exploring the north coast giving real peace and quiet whilst close enough to travel north for the nature reserves etc mind you in winter the narrow roads from the barn do get a little messy so the wife's car needed a good wash this morning before it's MOT which thankfully it passed with ease.
The year list has moved to a new high of 283 and I've moved a year older but roll on the next trip and the next bird.

Thanks again Suzanne X

Friday, 8 November 2013

Crossbills in a puddle

My last day in Norfolk today so I gave Tia her early morning walk and yes I saw the Barn Owl again then after a light breakfast we set off heading for home but made a very slight detour to stop half way to check on some Crossbills in Suffolk. We parked up and sat watching a prospective puddle hoping the birds would come in for a drink. I could hear Crossbills and before long a pair sat in a small birch tree above the puddle checking first me then the puddle before descending to quench their thirst. Suzanne had her first views off Crossbills and was pleased to have seen them. We watched for a couple of hours taking a few shots although the light was a little difficult at times.

A lovely surprise week in Norfolk to celebrate me getting old (those that know me will know I have good reason to celebrate this one) and I have to thank my good lady for firstly arranging it and secondly tolerating me and this crazy birding hobby I'm addicted to.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Short-eared Owl at Titchwell

Up early again and yes I saw Barnie whilst walking Tia but with good light this morning the bird didn't come back out that little later for the camera so after breakfast I headed back to Salthouse to grab a few more shots of the Phalarope taking advantage of the clear skies. Whilst "papping" the Phalarope two Long-tailed ducks dropped in off the sea to rest on the small pool next to us allowing a couple of record shots before flying further south out of view and on the walk back with a couple of birders we had a Lapland Bunting fly over whilst one guy was lucky enough to see it land briefly on the fence line. (283)
Grey Phalarope
Long-tailed Ducks at Salthouse
I then drove west stopping at the layby on the A149 at Burnham Overy to check for RL Buzzard but it wasn't seen today. I did pick out Common Buzzard and Marsh Harrier before spotting a Short-eared Owl hunting in the distance. Moving on I stopped at Brancaster where I watched Turnstone, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and a rather approachable Oystercatcher. (A bird I struggle to get in my lens)

Dunlin at Brancaster
Ringed Plover at Brancaster
Oystercatcher at Brancaster
I then moved on to Titchwell where I was delighted to find another Short-eared Owl showing well in the midday sun. A Sparrowhawk hunted the marsh and the bomb disposal squad exploded an old WW11 bomb on the beach at Thornham which put every bird for miles up in the sky. Water levels were high and waders in short supply with Pintail and Shoveler being the birds of volume. My last stop of the day was Stiffkey where I watched as Harriers came in to roost and a Peregrine hunted for one last meal for the day.

Shoveler at Titchwell
Short-eared Owl at Titchwell
Short-eared Owl
Another cracking day on the north Norfolk coast. I head home tomorrow but I'm sure we'll find somewhere to stop off on the route home.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

More of the Grey Phalarope at Salthouse

If I thought yesterday had started well today was even better as whilst still in my bed a Barn Owl flew past the bedroom window and hunted the grassy ditch that borders the farmers field and has to be the most comfortable I've ever been when birding. (Really I was lying in my bed) I took Tia for her usual walk and again enjoyed good views of Barnie and as we got in the car to leave for a day out on the north coast we were again distracted by the hunting Owl so pulled over to watch for an hour or so.
My next stop was Salthouse where I'd seen the Grey Phalarope in the rain yesterday. Today it was still dull but dry enough to take the camera. I walked from Salthouse car park today spotting Snow Bunting on the way. As I arrived at the pool beyond Little Eye a small number of birders were already gathered and I settled down next to them on the edge of the pool. The Phalarope was in the centre of the pool and took flight on a couple of occasions choosing to land closer to us and giving the chance of a few shots despite the dull weather. Eventually the bird had a little walk around the waters edge which was nice to see.

Grey Phalarope
Grey Phalarope
Grey Phalarope
Phalarope in flight
From here I took a walk around Cley with little to report of note although the Eye fields held good numbers of Golden Plover and the Leucistic Brent was still there.
Leucistic Brent Goose
A Velvet Scoter was seen drifting west before I departed for lunch which was enjoyed looking over the coast at Cromer. Today was a day of few birds but the quality time with both Barnie and the Phalarope was exceptional and will be long remembered.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Shore Larks at Great Yarmouth and a continental Starling Invasion

Today started well when I stepped out of the front door to walk Tia and saw a Tawny Owl take flight from the large Oak tree in the garden. Muntjac Deers called from the small wood behind the cottage and on returning from my walk I noted Marsh Tit, Bullfinch, Goldcrest, Brambling and Nuthatch feeding in the garden and watched a Buzzard fly along the field behind the barn we're staying in as I made breakfast.
I left early and made a stop off at Salthouse to connect with the Grey Phalarope I'd missed yesterday and then quickly set off along the A149 in the direction of Great Yarmouth determined to find my first Shore Lark of 2013. I arrived at the small car park opposite Sandown Road as the rain stopped and made my way  to the beach where I quickly located two Shore Larks feeding amongst the shingle. The weather was poor with grey skies and a dampness still in the air but I grabbed a couple of shots anyway as a record before moving along the beach where I located a third Shorelark.
Shore Lark
Shore Lark 
Shore Lark (one of my favorite birds)
On the eastern side of Britannia Pier I was pleased to find a few Med Gulls and a large roost of Ringed Plovers which must have included twenty or more birds in with a flock of Dunlin.
Ringed Plover and Dunlin
Med Gull
From Yarmouth I carried on down the coast to Lowestoft and parked up at Ness Point where I watched in the rain as four Purple Sandpipers fed amongst the waves. I have to say they amaze me how they can stay put with fierce waves crashing against them. Turnstones walked the footpath looking for an easy meal and a Rock Pipit looked fresh in. Gannets dived and a Red Throated Diver flew along the tide line close in.
Male Kestrel by the car park at Ness Point
The tally of birds for the day was 74 giving me two year ticks in the process and moving the 2013 total to 282. I got a couple of good soakings but enjoyed the day and the spectacle of thousands of Starlings coming across the sea today. No matter where I was today the Starlings just kept on coming with the only other migrants noted being a couple of flocks of Fieldfare and a couple of single Blackbirds in off the sea.

 I stumbled on this hoard of winter fuel on my way back to the barn this afternoon....enough apples, turnips and hay to keep a few pigs happy for a while.
Winter supplies

Monday, 4 November 2013

Birding in Norfolk

With the family all home safe after yesterday's celebrations I headed out to Cley this morning.
Juvenile Gannet
The wind was strong but thankfully by about 7am the rain had stopped. From the coastguards hut I watched as Gannets, Red-throated Divers and Scoters pushed through close to the shore. I spotted a couple of Arctic Terns with several Sandwich Terns being mobbed by Arctic Skua and a couple of Bonxie moved through. Great Northern Diver, Pomarine Skua, Grey Phalarope and Shore Lark were all seen from Cley today but sadly weren't on my radar.
At Salthouse the Turnstones were performing as usual without a care for the people walking along the coast and after a walk along the Eastbank I located thirty Snow Buntings on the shingle ridge. Also of note today was a leucistic Brent Goose in the field by the coastguards car park.

Wigeon at Salthouse
On returning to the cottage I again found the Barn Owl sitting on a post by the edge of the field but the light failed me and it looks like mornings are going to be my best best for catching him on camera.