Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Wot a Month!

31st Jan. I did say at the end of 2011 that I would be happy this year with good health and good birding with good mates. Well I know it’s early days but the year has begun extremely well for me and has gone the way I would have wished

First of all there was the trip to Norfolk giving me some great sightings including a lifer in Golden Pheasant and a UK tick in Western Sandpiper. Other great sightings are too many to list (again), but the watching of so many Marsh Harriers at Stubb Mill will be a spectacle which will take some beating this year. The geese too, were of course very special. The day after I returned from Norfolk I led a very successful walk up at Cresswell and rounded the day off watching three Short Eared Owls, with a Kingfisher also putting in an appearance. On patch I’ve been entertained by four Short Eared Owls and of course have watched even more of them at Prestwick Carr. It has certainly been the winter of the Short Eared Owl.

Then of course there is the Bittern (well two Bitterns in fact) seen at Gosforth Park N R. The best sightings I’ve had of this species and shared with enthusiastic mates on both occasions. I’ve also at last got myself a Glaucous Gull on my list. The two Iceland Gulls were even better, and all the better for having come to me unexpectedly!

Even a walk through Jesmond Dene brought me my second excellent sighting of a Water Rail of the year (the first one was just a few feet away from us in Norfolk). Incidentally I’ve been told by a knowledgeable dene patch birder that it is a first record for the dene! I was very surprised by that. I do know from Northumberland Bird recorder Tim Dean that Water Rail has not been recorded in the dene in the NTBC annual report, over the past ten years!

I’ve seen loads of Dippers (well quite a few) one of my favourite species and had a great afternoon at the Red Kite roost. Best my year list has ever looked at the end of January. Hoping the year continues as it has begun. Bring it on.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Red Kites in the Sunset

Frozen Lake in Derwent Valley

Pair of Dippers later found singing.

One of many Red Kites

Nice to see the Snowdrops.

Nine Arch Bridge, Derwent Valley.

Sunset as the Red Kites come to roost.

28th Jan. I’d agreed with Sam (Under the Hood) to go and take a look at the Red Kite roost in the Derwent Valley today. We didn’t want to waste any part of the day so we left for Winlaton Mill in the morning, giving plenty of time to explore the river area and visit Far Pastures, before making for the Nine Arch Bridge to hopefully view a few Red Kites. Cold air and icy roads had welcomed us in the morning and the pathway leading from Winlaton Mill remained icy. The sun was shining however and we soon warmed up.

It wasn’t long until we caught sight of our first Red Kite flying above us. Year tick number one for the day. Year tick number two came in the form of an overhead Peregrine Falcon. A brief, but welcome sighting. Several Kestrels and a Sparrowhawk added to the raptor list for the day.

The small pond was completely frozen so all that was found here were a couple of Mute Swans. Jays were heard and then eventually seen. Time spent by the river was productive. Sam was keen to get some photographs, and I not having the scope today took the camera, although I had no intention of competing in the photography stakes. We soon had good views of a pair of Dippers. A txt came through on my mobile and I checked it (bad decision). It was a regular txt from a friend in Perth, about Scottish football club St Johnston. I looked up from reading the txt to be told by Sam that a Kingfisher had just flown by at very close range. I thought ‘oh dear’ or something along those lines, and congratulated Sam on his sighting, feeling no jealousy at all (if you believe that you’ll believe anything). Sam was polite enough not to remind me too many times that I’d missed the bird.:-) A Grey Heron flew over the river. This little session by the river reminded me of the benefits of taking time just to stop look and listen and let things come to you, rather than chasing after birds and wildlife. I really enjoyed that peaceful time by the river.

As we headed for Far Pastures, Roe Deer were seen in the woodland. There was no sign of the Firecrest when we arrived at Far Pasture and the pond here was frozen solid so there was nothing about. We did get chatting to a couple of birders, one of them Simon who is often found watching at the Rising Sun CP. He has spent some time looking for the Firecrest. The hide was handy to take lunch in before we moved on again. Sam knew this area better than I did as he visits here for photographic reasons. We found another pair of Dippers. I’m certain that they were another pair in a different territory. Walking along the river bank took us to underneath the Nine Arch Bridge which we had crossed earlier. I’d never been down here before. It was nice to see Snowdrops in flower although perhaps they may yet be covered in snow!

We arrived at the Red Kite viewing area early. It seemed quite warm at this point in time, but that was to change by the time we left and my feet had almost frozen to the ground. Wonderful view from this are, spoilt only by pylons and wires across the valley. The pylon to the south did serve well as a perch for the Red Kites, with three of them on the top of it at one point. We were well rewarded with Red Kites coming in from all directions with their distinctive calls filling the air. Sam reckoned we saw more than twenty and I wouldn’t argue with that, although getting a definite count proved impossible. I could never tire of watching such magnificent birds and the view and sunset to the west added to the enjoyment. By now there were only a few keen observers around. Hopefully these birds will never be taken for granted.

As the cold started to hit us we managed to pull ourselves away from the Nine Arch Bridge and head back towards Winlaton Mill. I had hoped for Siskins today and we had seen a small flock of maybe fifteen of them whilst we waited for the Red Kites to display. Nothing on the scale of the large flocks I saw last winter in this area, but nevertheless year tick number three. W took a final look on the river and found another pair of Dippers. This is likely to have been the pair we had initially seen in the morning. This time we heard Dipper song. Not something I have heard often and I had mentioned this to Sam previously. A Goosander flew down river as we watched.

We thought an owl or two would finish the day off very well, but agreed that this might be being too greedy. We had been surprised not to have seen Grey Wagtails in this habitat. I’d been talking to Sam about how this bird is so often associated with Dipper and Kingfisher and that all three have evolved high pitch songs and calls in order to be heard over the sound of the running water of rivers and streams. The weather was perfect for the time of year and I had really enjoyed the day. Thanks Sam, your knowledge of birds and nature is coming along very well indeed.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Pond, Dene and Coast

23rd Jan. I had intended to visit Holywell on Sunday, but instead stayed in and watched the football. Having heard that the weather is about to deteriorate I decided that today’s sunshine was too hard to resist, so completed the Holywell to St Marys Island walk.

First stage, the pond. I have rarely seen it so quiet. Others are saying the same thing. Where has all the waterfowl disappeared to? I understand that concern has led to NWT planning on taking some water samples for examination. I only have that as hearsay, but never the less, reliable hearsay. I’d hoped for some geese today, but had only one lone Greylag Goose (which flew over the pond) all day. Apart from six Gadwall, there is little to report on the pond. I did see Common Buzzard briefly west of the pond area and I think it likely that it had been disturbed by the movement of Wood Pigeons from north of the pond. There was no shortage of Wood Pigeons. A Sparrowhawk in territorial dispute with a corvid had been seen as I approached the pond and a Kestrel was seen as I made my way to the dene. The feeding stations weren’t that busy either. A Reed Bunting was seen at the now very quiet area near the hide and Tree Sparrow was amongst birds seen at the newer station. I’m not too sure how many Tree Sparrows were about as there was some movement within the hedge. I know I saw at least four. At least two Grey Herons on the edge of the pond and gull flock was made up of Black Headed, Common and a few Herring Gulls. A single Grey Partridge was seen in the fields and I think perhaps more were behind it in the dip.

Second stage, the dene. This was quite productive today. I decided to stop and wait to see if I could catch a sighting of the Dipper/s. In fact I found it almost immediately on what I’ve come to realise is a favourite rock of the bird within its territory. Thankfully a couple decided against letting their dog have a bath today and the Dipper remained undisturbed while I was there. As I watched, Nuthatch calls seemed to echo through the trees. There were certainly at least two of them calling, but such was the movement of the birds and echoing calls, I couldn’t find them in the binoculars. I did find two a little further through the dene and a Grey Wagatil was nearby on the rocks in the burn. At this point I got chatting to another birder as we watched the Grey Wagtail. Nuthatch calls soon began again. Long Tailed Tits were numerous.

Before I left the dene I had a good sighting of male Bullfinch looking very stunning in the sunlight. Just before I reached Seaton Sluice I found two Little Grebes on the burn. The fish and chips were given a miss today and I made do with a packet of crisps and a Satsuma. No wonder I’m feeling tired! I found no sign of Stonechats behind the Astley Arms, where I had been told a pair had been seen recently.

Third stage, the coast. The sea was very quiet. One Guillemot, Cormorants, one Goldeneye, Eiders and gulls being about the sum total of what was about. I got into conversation with another birder who was about to make off to Hauxley. It wasn’t until I was approaching St Marys Island that I got my first and only year tick of the day, this being Rock Pipit. The Golden Plover flock kept flying behind the lighthouse and then landing in an area that was hidden from view on the seaward side. Other waders seen were Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Knot, Sanderling, Turnstone, Redshank and Curlew. I didn’t find my first Lapwing until right at the end of the walk. The wetland held thirty Teal, but little else.

I was home shortly after 2:30pm, so that shows the day had been a quiet one, although I was quite pleased to find the day list of species had come to fifty-nine. If it hadn’t been so cold I could have fooled myself into thinking it was summer.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Iceland and Glaucous

A canny bird, but not as canny as the ones mentioned below, although I'm sure she is 'armless!

I'll leave the proper photos to others. The sighting will do me.

21st Jan. I’d approached North Shields fish quay having heard that an Iceland Gull had been seen in the area earlier in the week, so I was hoping rather than expecting. As I was watching small flotillas of Eider Duck I got my eye on what was clearly an Iceland Gull. I saw a couple of photographers around by the sheds and decided that they were in a better position so quickly walked around to that area. I had great views of the bird on the water, but even better when it began to fly up and down past us in the gut of the quay. One of the photographers mentioned that there was a Glaucous Gull (2nd winter) on the roof above us. Moving along to find a better viewing point I had a fine view of this bird as it sat next to Herring Gulls and thus giving a very good contrasting sighting. Even better was to come when a first year Iceland Gull joined the adult bird and flew in the gut of the fish quay. Quite away to begin the day and giving me two year ticks and I have to admit a lifer in Glaucous Gull. Yes I know, how I can live where I do and not have seen a Glaucous Gull before. I’ve been saving it up. My thanks to the two photographers who offered advice as to the plumage patterns of the different species and putting me onto the first year Iceland Gull. I’m no expert on gulls so welcomed their advice and information. Not so sure I would have that first year easily without their help but the other two birds were very obvious. No one seemed interested in the numbers of Turnstone feeding near the boats. I was pleased to see some of the boatmen showing real interest in the white winged gulls.

After the excitement with the gulls I doubted that anything was going to beat that, and nothing did. I did walk up Tanners Bank to Northumberland Park where the highlight was my first stunning Grey Wagtail of the year. The Great Spotted Woodpecker put in an appearance as did numbers of Stock Doves and woodland species.

The tide was high so I didn’t walk right along to Tynemouth, but instead returned to the fish Quay. The first year Iceland Gull and Glaucous Gull weren't found again, but the adult Iceland Gull continued to fly to and fro along the quay and again gave excellent sightings. I’m sure there will be good photos popping up soon on a number of blogs, although not mine.:-) Shortly before I dragged myself away, Great Black Backed Gulls were having a tussle over discarded fish and it didn’t seem any of them were going to back down easily. Common and Black Headed Gulls were also seen. The flotillas of Eider Duck were still about. Great stuff

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Help Save Gateshead Countryside Management Team

I started to explore the Derwent Valley in a little more depth at the time of the Red Kite Reintroduction Scheme. I've since been very impressed by the area and how it is managed for wildlife. You just have to listen to someone like Keith Bowey talk about this area to get excited about it. Sadly I learn the Wildlife team is lined up for the chop. A petition is being collected and you can help by signing it HERE. (sorry link appears not to work but you can find it by Google E petitions + Gateshead) I believe they have 900 names up to now, but need 2,000 before it will be taken up by the Gateshead Council. Please spread the word.

BTW Keith Bowey is giving a talk for the NHSoc at the Hancock on Friday 20th Jan (7:00pm). The title is The Birds of Durham


17th Jan. A non birding day, but I took a look at the lake as I came past on my return from Forest Hall. I wanted to track down the Grey Wagtail seen by Sedgedunum Warbler. I failed. Most of the lake is frozen and all of the Goosanders appear to have fled. The gull flock on the ice was made up primarily of Black Headed and Common Gulls along with a few Herring Gulls.

To my surprise I found a pair of Shoveller at the far end of the lake. Believe it or not that is a patch tick for me! I had been alerted by Sam that they had been around at some point last year. At least one pair of Goldeneye remains and Pochard numbers appear to have grown. The Mute Swans, Canada Geese and Greylag Geese were tightly flocked at the far end of the lake.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Owls Aplenty

Not a Dipper on patch, but one from Jesmond dene yesterday.

16th Jan. With a very hard frost overnight and temperatures not seeming to rise very much as the day went on it was a time to leave your brass monkeys wrapped up at home and next to the central heating. Cold though it might be, it was another wonderful winter’s day with clear skies and clear light. The past few days have been fantastic and if all winter days could be like this I’d gladly pass on the wet damp days of a British summer. I felt I ought to get out and about this afternoon. Harry Potter can wait. I’m well into the third volume now anyway so well on target to finish the lot before the end of spring.

Alerted yesterday to the fact that a couple of Short Eared Owls were still about I made for the frosty paths of the wagon-ways wrapped up for Arctic conditions. How some people manage to wander round in light jackets and tee shirts in weather like this beats me. Maybe its years of practice of a Friday night in the Bigg Market.

All was quiet until I came across a small flock of Yellowhammers and then my first Short Eared Owl seen on patch this year (I’ve not been looking). I watched it at length until it dropped behind a hedge. I moved on and further down the wagon-way passing only a couple of Great Tits, Dunnocks and Pheasants. I looked back across to where I had seen the Short Eared Owl and it had been joined by another. I watched them meet in the air. One was distinctly pale in colour. The light was perfect for watching these birds. Then I found another Short Eared Owl, although it was becoming difficult to count them as they were hunting over a wide area, I was sure I had three owls. Then I got my eye on another and found that they seemed to be staying in two pairs. One of the birds eventually flew very close and almost over my head, and it was clearly watching me. It flew off into the more distant fields and into the sun. Three Short Eared Owls remained in the air to my left. I’d watched at least four Short Eared Owls then, and I just don’t know if there were more in the distant fields. I accept that it doesn’t match the show that has been put on at Prestwick Carr this winter, but for me, to find these birds on patch and watch them like this is every bit as exciting and rewarding. I’m surprised, although not overly concerned, that more people aren’t out watching them. It’s good to have the place almost to myself. As the light began to dim a flock of circa thirty Golden Plover flew towards the east and Mute Swans seemed to be returning to the lake in the opposite direction.

So I left for my return home very pleased with myself. By the time I approached the village the sun was a ball of fire in a colourful sky. The clear skies have led to some wonderful sunsets of late as well as minus degree temperatures. As I left the village behind and approached home the Jackdaws flew overhead and give their unmistakeable calls, underlining that the day was not quite over yet

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Fisher, Dipper and Rail

A frosty walk

15th Jan. I’m reliably informed it was minus five degrees early this morning. It certainly felt bitterly cold as I left for Heaton Park and Jesmond Dene. The frost was still thick in places in the dene at noon and despite being wrapped up like a Christmas parcel, I never felt warm at any point during my walk. A thin layer of ice was forming along the side of the burn that was the most shaded.

Unusually there were few birds near the entrance to Heaton Park but I did eventually find a male Blackcap along with the tits and Blackbirds. A little further in to the park and at least two Nuthatches were found, heard before seen, along with the first Treecreeper of the day and Great, Coal, Blue and Long Tailed Tits. Quite a few Stock Doves were around, but I saw no sign of woodpeckers. Three Mistle Thrushes flew from the tops of the taller trees.

The first Dipper of the day was found under the road bridge next to Armstrong Bridge before entering the dene proper. I watched the white of the blinking nictitating membrane as the bird dipped on a rock. At least three Goldcrest were found near to Pets Corner, as was the next Treecreeper and flock of Long Tailed Tits, but after that apart from Mallards, of which there were many, and a couple of Moorhens things went very quiet.

It wasn’t until approaching the South Gosforth area that the Kingfisher was seen and then at least one more Dipper showed very well. The surprise bird of the day was a Water Rail which showed really well before running along the bank of the burn and disappearing. I went most of last year without finding Water Rail, and so far this month I’ve had two fine sightings.

As I say, the dene was very cold, but picturesque in the frosty atmosphere. I perhaps ended the walk a little earlier than I have in the past. The cold and thoughts of the match on TV quickened the footsteps I think. I was back in time for kick off and the score warmed me up even if the match itself had not been too hot.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Bittern X Two

Another room with a view. This time with sunny, frozen outlook and Bitterns!

I can remember when you rarely saw anyone in this area!

Wonderful habitat

14th Jan. More great sightings of a Bittern today. This time initially half hidden on the edge of the reeds (a sighting at anytime I would be very pleased to have recorded) then fully exposing itself on the frozen pond at Gosforth Park N R. As this Bittern was being watched another flew across the pond from the far reeds. I hadn’t been able to pick this one up in my binoculars as it too had apparently been standing at the edge of the reedbed. I’ll let Sam’s photo’s (up in the next day or two) say the rest. Not a bad sighting for your first Bittern Sam!? All of this when the Common Snipe seemed to have remained in the exact same position that I saw it two days ago! A Reed Bunting was seen in the reeds. Attention taken by the Bitterns, I didn’t spend to much time looking at the ducks but most were once again Wigeon, which had been heard whistling as we approached the pond

Whilst watching the Bittern I was asked by a fellow birder who joined us, everyone else had left, if I had lost my wallet. My first reaction was to say no. Then I felt my pocket and realised I had lost the wallet! Thanks to reserve warden Paul Drummond for taking this to my home. I’m very grateful.

The reserve was at it best today. An icy but sunny day with clear skies. The feeding station was busy with birds and bird watchers. We were all asked to show our membership cards this morning and I guess that was when the wallet went. It seems non-members have been filling the hide at the feeding station and members have not been able to get in. Cheek of it! Joining the NHSoc is quite easy, as is paying the subs! I actually had a conversation with someone a while back who told me that he had every right to enter the reserve and enjoy nature without becoming a member of the society. Sadly attitudes like that are not unusual in society.

Anyway once the wallet business had been sorted a trip was made to Prestwick Carr. That damn Great Grey Shrike eluded me again. I apparently missed it by minutes if not seconds. Not to worry, as the show put on by the Short Eared Owls more than made up for it. Once again flying north, south and east of the bumpy road. I remain in love with the Bittern, but those Short Eared Owls know how to pull at my heart strings.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Bittern By Love!

My thanks to Cain Scrimgeour (Holywell Birding) for allowing me to use his images.

12th Jan. I visited Gosforth Park today with Cain (Holywell Birding). It had been a long time since we had the chance to take in a days birding together (and quite some time since I had been to the reserve), but today was well worth waiting for. The previous nights wind had departed and the heavy shower of this morning had soon passed over to leave sunshine and clear skies.

The new feeding station was quiet on our arrival, but soon picked up and several Nuthatches were seen. Other birds visiting included Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Blackbird Robin, Dunnock, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Magpie, and Stock Dove. I reckon the cost of seed must be quite substantial! It’s an excellent station though with a nice view through the woodland. God forbid that Newcastle City Council allows planning permission for houses on the land next to this reserve. It would be an absolute disgrace if such a plan is allowed to go through and ruin this reserve!

We next headed to the pond and hide with thoughts of Bittern on our minds. I remember when you walked through this reserve and never saw a soul. It seems that the long needed modernisation of the Natural History Society has brought with it many new members who now visit the reserve. We arrived at the hide having negotiated the very muddy pathway. A Common Buzzard was quickly found in the bordering tree line and I thin k I caught a fleeting sighting of a Sparrowhawk before it dropped into the reeds. A Common Snipe was picked up along one of the channels, although not showing well. Wigeon had overtaken the pond although a few Teal were there, along with five Shoveller.

Patience eventually paid off and the Bittern made a momentary appearance at it flew out and then straight back into the reedbed. It was only a few yards from the hide. I wanted more, but settled my mind to the fact that at least I had taken in the briefest of sightings and had myself a year tick of one species I rarely see. After some time the Bittern reappeared and gave a far better sighting as it stood at the edge of the reedbed in typical Bittern posture with neck stretched. It eventually came further out of the reeds although it was very much on guard and nervous. We had several minutes watching before the bird took off and flew to the other side of the pond. This is without any doubt what so ever my best ever sighting of a Bittern both on the ground and in flight. A guy who had joined us in the hide told us he had been a casual birder for forty years and had never seen a Bittern. He had not realised that Bitterns were in the reserve, so the sighting had come as a complete surprise. He was over the moon and delighted that we had initially pointed the bird out to him. I was over the moon too and very pleased for him. You could almost feel the delight within the hide. Already this year I have another top birding experience for 2012. Great to share it with Cain and others.

We completed the circuit of the reserve, ‘plodging’ through the mud, during which we found Jays and a number of relaxed Roe Deer which watched us through the trees as we watched them. Unfortunately the only squirrel we found was of the grey variety.

Next stop was Prestwick Carr. The sun was bright by now and the area had again attracted numerous birders. We’d hoped for the Great Grey Shrike and did do a careful search for it up and down the bumpy road. We chatted to PCW and a number of other birders. The shrike was being seen, but it was one of those days when we arrived just a few minutes too late. The sun didn’t help when scanning the area and like a number of other people we just had no luck in finding this bird at all. We did find at least six Common Buzzards, too many Kestrels to remember, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Willow Tit and Mistle Thrush.

The Short Eared Owls were what had attracted most people of course and they did put on a wonderful showing on both sides of the road, both perched and in flight. We reckoned that we had seen ten birds by the time it was going home time. Another Roe Deer appeared in the tall grass. It had been a really grand day. Great stuff! I’m now in love with a Bittern

Monday, 9 January 2012

Cresswell Walk

Photos taken my walk participant

Atmospheric Day

7th Jan. I’d had my fingers crossed since arranging this RSPB walk, as I had hoped we would avoid the icy conditions of last year. Not that I would have minded too much, but I think participation may have been limited. In the event we had twenty-one participants come along on a rather breezy, but otherwise wonderful January day. A day which offered very good lighting conditions. After we had picked up our youngest participant Sam we headed for Cresswell, Linkcatching a glimpse of a Sparrowhawk as we left Killingworth. Sam is a keen photographer and also gaining a keen interest in birds and nature and has provided some good photographs from the day on his blog, which is well worth following. We met everyone in the car-park at Cresswell and before beginning the walk enjoyed coffees, cakes and mince pies provided by members. It was a very nice way to begin what was to be a good days birding and I thank those who contributed the goodies and their time.

Sam has provided a report on his blog so I’ll keep mine short. Well short in a relative sense. :-) We picked up divers auks and waders as we walked along the beach, but got back onto the road as I felt the inlets about to flood with the incoming tide. I was pleased to have found a small flock of Twite even though they were very flighty in the windy conditions. Tree Sparrows were found at Bells Farm as were four Grey Partridges.

The birds of the day were undoubtedly the three Short Eared Owls. I initially caught site of one in the dunes as we returned towards the pond hide. Three Short Eared Owls went on to perform for us for about ninety minutes. This gave me some of my best ever sightings of this species and was a grand way to end the day. They were certainly catching the attention of passing motorists some of whom stopped to ask what species they were. A Kingfisher also put in an appearance and at one point circled in front of the hide. The pair of Stonechats also entertained us as we watched the Short Eared Owls as the sun began to set. With several hundred Pink-footed Geese keep taking to the air and flocks of Wigeon and Teal on and over the sea the day could not have worked out better. It provided fifty-four species. After my trip to Norfolk and this walk I was cream crackered on Saturday night.

My all weather birder mate Tom is back in Yorkshire for the time being at least. His blog is another that I reckon is going to be well worth following in the longer term so I hope you’ll consider following if you don’t already do so.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Postcard from (a Golden) Norfolk

Photo Provided by Andrew Kinghorn (The Fog). The Golden Pheasants were seen remarkably well and at length.

What would you think if I sang out of tune,
Would you stand up and walk out on me.
Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song,
And I’ll try not to sing out of key.
Oh I get by with a little help from my friends,
Mmm,I get high with a little help from my friends,
Mmm, I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends.

Beatles Lyrics

5th and 6th Jan. Military manoeuvres began at 2.00am on the 5th when I was picked up by Andrew (The Fog) and we set of for Sheffield to meet Tom (Flat Cap Birder). Tom took over as driver and we headed for Norfolk with a stop at the Wolferton Triangle shortly after light had appeared. It wasn’t too long before we were watching two Golden Pheasants. A great start and highlight of the trip which brought me a lifer. Having visited once before and never having had a sniff of these birds I hadn’t been overly confident that they would appear let along give the long and stunning showing that they did. A Muntjac Deer was also seen. A return was made to Kings Lynn railway station to pick up Oliver who had been slightly delayed by falling wires on the rails as he had travelled from London. We then set off from Buckenham Marshes.

I remember the last time I visited Buckenham Marshes, it was windy and cold. This time it was windy and cold and wet. I didn’t let this nor the fact that for a time I felt I was about to throw up at any second take my mind off why we were here. The main objective was the Lesser White Fronted Goose and it was eventually seen. I’m told the one I saw here last year was in fact a hybrid so I’ve made sure that I now have this species legitimately on my life list. Pink-footed Geese had been seen on the journey and I’m now pleased that I have seen Taiga Bean Geese and in some number, if somewhat distant. There were numbers of Egyptian Geese around with a few Barnacle and Canada Geese too. In between watching the geese we were entertained by flocks of waders and ducks, the large flocks Golden Plovers being the highlight. I’d like to say they looked good in the sun but there wasn’t too much of that, although it did appear eventually!

It was onward to Hickling Broad and Stubbs Mill. The entry fee into Hickling Broad Reserve began to make me think that Norfolk birding doesn’t come cheaply. As it happens the spectacle that was to come later was a birding treat that I would have paid a great deal more to see. The reserve itself was quiet with only the odd Marsh Harrier to be seen so we made off towards the raptor roost viewing point. I remembered the area vaguely from a visit some years ago. We soon picked up the three Common Cranes on the ground as another two flew in. Then the Marsh Harriers began to arrive in numbers. They just kept on coming and I thought they were never going to stop. Thirty plus were counted up in the air at one time and we reckoned in total that there were more than fifty of these birds. Two ringtail Hen Harriers put in an appearance along with two Merlin. I had not anticipated how fantastic an experience this would be and it is one of my top birding experiences in the UK. If I have anything like this again during 2012 I’ll be well pleased. By now I had shaken of the earlier feelings of sickness and enjoyed the walk back to the car in the fading light. A great way to end the day before heading to accommodation in Great Yarmouth, some fish and chips and a well earned pint before sleep came at last.

Off after a good breakfast on day two we had hope to find the Great Northern Diver, but that wasn’t to be although Andrew picked up a Kingfisher whilst we were looking for the diver. A Harris Hawk flew over head, but no guys I haven’t put it on the list. The Bewick’s Swans at Ludham had disappeared too but we did find a flock of Whooper Swans and watched a Merlin chasing a bird up in the air.

Snow Buntings were found in the car park before we moved on for what was to be the big one, the Western Sandpiper at Cley. Tom and Andrew had watched this bird last year and I wasn’t able to join them, so I was anxious to get it on my UK list. Having shelled out more cash, we entered the busy reserve. I had been confident of seeing this bird but the confidence began to drain quite quickly. I’m patient when watching for birds, but the general atmosphere was suggesting to me that this bird was not going to show easily. I found the behaviour of some birders in the hide completely out of order and the type that gets birding a bad image. I nearly had my eye pushed into my eye piece on one occasion, I was stood on and pushed around and have felt safer in the crowd at a football match. Never mind, my thanks to Tom for getting me onto Western Sandpiper. I had a very acceptable sighting of the bird which is a UK tick for me. I sure I would have felt a bit down if I’d missed this one. By now we had seen many waders and added Brent Geese to the list also. Cetti’s Warbler was heard. It was time to leave.

We moved on to Holkham where the fields held thousands of geese and a Barn Owl appeared content sitting out in the open. In places the flocks were packed closely together. On the whole they were Pink-footed Geese, but we picked up two Ross’s Geese, and Barnacles and Greylags were also easily picked up. We parked at St Annes Drive and walked into Holkham Gap hoping for Shore Lark, but had no luck with them. Flocks of Skylark were on the marsh. When we returned we heard Jay and then had a rather nice sighting of one of them. Oliver especially wanted to find the Rough Legged Buzzards which would be a lifer for him. It was good that it was he who eventually picked the first bird up. We saw two Rough Legged Buzzards really well. One of them an especially pale bird. Then it was off to Titchwell.

The Coue's Arctic Redpoll was quickly found along with Lesser Redpoll. I’m still struggling with these Arctic Redpolls! Also had a close sighting of a Water Rail at this time. We found a number of waders near to the sea including a group of circa forty Grey Plover. Long Tailed Duck and Red-Breasted Merganser were also amongst birds seen. The sun was almost gone by now on what had been a far less windy day with really good light. On return walk to the centre a pair of Pintail was seen on the marsh and two Avocets were on the pool. As our second day was ending a ring tailed Hen Harrier flew over the marsh and passed over our heads.

It was time to head for home now at the end of two great days in equally great company. Good birding is always made even better if the company is good too. I want to thank Tom for the driving throughout the birding days and Andrew for getting me to and from Sheffield. The bird list for the trip came to 103 on my reckoning. I’ve certainly never started a years birding so well as in 2012. My mission has begun. All this after the Magpies walloping the Reds of Manchester!

The following day I led an RSPB walk and that was pretty good too. More of that later.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Leaving the Dentist's Chair for a Lesser Scaup

4th Jan. Unfortunately it was one of my now regular dental visits today. I’m beginning to think that only concrete will prevent my fillings from dropping out. My dentist wondered why I had not joined the surgery Christmas party, so well does he know my face and mouth. Can you imagine a Christmas party at the dental surgery? Never mind the party poppers, let’s get the needles and drills out. Every drill has a silver lining however and I took the chance to nip down to Marden Quarry to tick off the long staying Lesser Scaup. It was found without any problem at all as it dived near to the centre of the pond. Maybe against my principals chasing after a bird already seen, especially this Lesser Scaup just to get it on my year list, but I’m on a mission this year so principals may have to be cast aside occasionally.

Some very odd looking specimens of bird in that quarry I must say. I did find a single male Goosander and my first Greenfinches of the year. A flock of Goldfinch where making quite a noise. Although I was there at mid day it was dark and miserable.

I’d taken another short walk on patch on 2nd January and found the place devoid of most bird life. Never the less I did manage to add Sparrowhawk, Mistle Thrush, and Bullfinch to the list. My horizons may now be going to widen a little from the patch.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

And Another List Begins

All alone on the wagon-way

This reed-bed is doing ok, attracting birds and in my opinion should be extended.

1st Jan 2012. I was going to title this post ‘Dreaming of Birds’ but thought that this may bring unsavoury readers to my blog and we don’t want that do we? I have been dreaming of birds recently and it is a while since this has happened! In December I had a very vivid dream of me sighting a family of Quail from the office I used to work in. A family of them were seen on the grassy area opposite the office. In my dream I even rang all weather birder Tom and asked him to inform Birdguides as I didn’t have the number with me. I awoke at this point and was very disappointed that I hadn’t actually seen what would have been a lifer. I have heard Quail, but never seen them, although I have tasted them! :-) Now last night, I began 2012 dreaming that I had Tree Sparrows on the bird table. I saw them very vividly in my dream as I had done with the Quail. I’ve never seen Tree Sparrows anywhere on patch so was delighted. Sadly on waking I found it wasn’t to be a garden tick!

No Tree Sparrows but the first birds of 2012 seen in the garden in order were Blackbird, Black Headed Gull, Starling, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Wood Pigeon, Blue Tit, Carrion Crow, Long Tailed Tit and Chaffinch. So that was to be my opening for 2012. It was in fact quiet so I soon got out for my annual New Years Day walk on patch.

I made for the wagon-ways and it began to rain. Thankfully that soon blew over and left clear skies again. It was again very quiet but one of the hedges and the area beside it was covered in Blackbirds and Redwings and an odd Fieldfare or two. It was nice to get these two winter thrushes so quickly. One of the playing fields was covered with Black Headed, Common and Herring Gulls. There was few small passerines about although I picked up the likes of Wren, Robin, Goldfinch and Linnet.

The Short Eared Owl/s was/were no where to be seen, and my eyes where not the only ones looking for it. I stopped and had quite a chat with another guy out walking his dog, but hoping to find the owl. I suggested that if he didn’t find it that he take a trip to Prestwick Carr! Well another birder up there won’t make a vast difference. :-) There wasn’t much to be seen at all in this area today, but I heard two Pheasants calling and eventually saw one of them in the centre of a field.

I decided to walk through the village and onwards to the lake as this was an easy way to boost my list. The usual birds were there of course and included Little Grebe, Goosander and Goldeneye. I bumped into a friend from the local group and we exchanged pleasantries as the light began to go.

As I walked home the air was full of flocks of corvids, mainly Jackdaws, Wood Pigeons and Gulls, and a small flock of Goldfinch flew near the school. The sky was clear and it seemed that it may indicate a chilly night ahead, although it had been very mild again for the time of year. I had thirty-seven species on my list, beating the three previous years. I’d begun the year getting some real exercise too.

I set myself targets last year and beat them all, so will be setting some for 2012. I’m determined to enjoy my birding to the full.

As for resolutions. I have made only one, and only one other person knows what it is and that is the way it will remain.:-)