Tuesday, 20 September 2016


Options on Sunday morning were go north Norfolk and see someone else's bird (i.e. RB Fly at Salthouse) or strike out east and look for my own. I chose the latter.
I started at GY cemetery. I was trying my hardest to manage my expectations, no point in arriving full of optimisim only to lose heart an hour later when you realise that the place is devoid of birds. I told myself not to expect much but there's always a little voice telling you the big one is out there just waiting to be found.
Anyway, my low expectations were fully dampened within minutes of arrival. I met Justin Lansdell just as I arrived who told me it was bleak - no birds at all. Just a Garden Warbler, Grey Wagtail over and several Song Thrushes. Well bugger! I was here now so I had a poke around the north section knowing Justin would be right. All I could find was a female Blackcap and a Robin.
In the south section it was marginally better. I trying to see a calling Chiffchaff when a female Redstart made a very brief appearance. Not long after Tommy Corcoran found a Yellow-browed Warbler (although I didn't manage to see it myself) and soon after that we pinned down one if not two Firecrests.
Post lunch I drove to Happisburgh. Things got off to a good start (excuse the pun) with a female type Common Redstart in the horse paddocks near the pillboxes.

Redstart, Happisburgh, Norfolk

Further along the path I enjoyed a spectacle of two Hobbys being chased (in vain) by the local corvids. The Hobbys looked like they were having fun. At the cliff-edge I had two Wheatears and several Chiffers in the garden of the house opposite the paddocks.
I checked the church yard and around the cricket club but twas in vain. Before close of play I did a quick round of the area near the caravan park but could only dig out a Common Whitethroat there.
Its early yet but Happisburgh will deliver before the autumn is out.....I can feel it in me bones!
I should add though that bird of day was in fact seen long before I even arrived at Great Yarmouth - a Raven from the car near the Harford Park and Ride off the A47. Not so Normal for Norfolk!

Monday, 12 September 2016

Slim(ish) pickings!

This week has mostly been about large Shearwaters off Ireland's west coast and decent numbers of Pectoral and Buff-breasted Sandpipers on the Scillies and Western Isles. If I was still in Cork I'd be in heaven but here in Norfolk its slim pickings. I'll admit to being under-whelmed by wader watching at places like Cley, Titchwell and Hickling. Some smart birds but way too distant. How I now appreciate being able to crawl on my belly on the Ballycotton mud to snap a Semi-P Sandpiper or AGP from twenty feet!
Rain all day Saturday put paid to any birding. Clear skies Saturday night and a light southerly air flow didn't set my pulse racing either. But an early bank of fog gave rise to a little glimmer of hope as I drove to the east Norfolk coast early Sunday morning.
Two Chiffchaffs, a chacking Lesser Whitethroat and a juvenile Common Whitethroat at Happisburgh had me hoping but that was all I could I dig out there. I decided to walk the Nelson's Head track seeing what I could pick up en route and then finish with the 1st winter Red-backed Shrike at Winterton north dunes - assuming it had braved the rain and stayed put.
Nelson's Head track was actually quite good. At least there were birds. There and back I had three Wheatears, nine Whinchats, two Willow Warblers, a Blackcap and a probable Reed Warbler.

Wheatear, Nelson's Head track, Norfolk

Four of the nine Whinchats present along the track
Past the concrete blocks a small group of birders had gathered and the RB Shrike was still on show. A little too distant for photos and the sun was very strong by now. But still always a good bird to see. It had a series of look-out perches and was using them to good effect to pounce on unsuspecting beetles.

Red-backed Shrike, Winterton North Dunes, Norfolk
A Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart and several Hobbys were reportedly in the same area but I didn't see them. The fog was long gone and the day had really heated up. I watched the shrike for about half an hour before turning for home.
More hot weather this week and no sign of any east winds means we will have to do with the same meagre ration we have had so far. But as today showed, there is always something to see and maybe the east winds are waiting for my week off mid-October. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Cantley's Tringas and Corton's Jynx

On Saturday morning I took to the east coast for some bush-whacking. A light easterly air flow had me hoping but clear skies overnight and blue skies that morning dampened my enthuasiasm. I birded around Happisburgh, Cart Gap and Winterton but couldn't produce a single migrant. "Bird of the Day" was not even a bird.....a fresh-looking Painted Lady butterfly at Happisburgh was the best of the lot. At lunch-time I threw in the towel and opted to take Polina shopping in Norwich (that's how bad it was.....actually the shopping trip was quite enjoyable as it happens).
I skipped Sunday and instead went with Nick to Cantley Beet Factory to look for waders. That was not a bad option as it turned out and before lunch-time we had enjoyed smart views of some very handsome looking juvenile Tringas. I think the tally was five Green Sandpiper, two Wood Sandpiper, three Common Sands, three Greenshank and also about ten Ruff. Views were distant and heat haze would have been an issue for photography (didn't bother to bring my heavy lens). There was one delightful scope view of a Green and Wood Sandpiper alongside each other, if approaching without flushing them was possible then it would have made an excellent portrait. I had to settle for a very 'iffy' phonescoped effort instead.

Green and Wood Sandpiper, Cantley BF, Norfolk
After lunch we drove down to Corton in Suffolk to check out the Wryneck that had been frequenting the old sewage works compound. The bird was quite obliging but harsh light and a wire mesh fence put paid to decent shots.

Wryneck, Corton, Suffolk - 29th August 2016
So quality Wryneck shots continue to elude me.
A juvenile Whinchat kept it company but it kept its distance. At around 4pm we called it a day. Not a bank holiday to compare with previous years (see 2013, 2014) but a second Wryneck in a week, some tidy looking juvenile Waders and a Clouded Yellow at Cantley BF was quite acceptable.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Double Jynx

After a Saturday afternoon slogging around Great Yarmouth Cemetery and Winterton South Dunes, I came home and saw a report on RBA of a Wryneck in the northern section of the cemetery - drat and double drat! I had walked that area an all!
Anyway, it was still present on Sunday at midday so I made my way back over there hoping for some decent Wryneck shots. I figured if the location of the bird could be pinned down I would have several hours to get a good shot, all I needed was patience. However, I always under-estimate just how much cover there is there and this turned out to be a very tricky bird.
It buried itself within a Holm Oak and later a Holly tree. It was quite content in the latter, sitting against the truck just visible but with a twig or foliage always blocking a clear shot. So record shots only but I certainly enjoyed watching it feed with darts of its long lizard -like tongue.

Such a smashing bird. My second GY cemetery Wryneck (double jynx!) - not as showey as the first one from August 2014 though slightly less soggy!

Wryneck, GY Cemetery - 28th August 2014

Signs of autumn

A short little run of easterlies in the second half of the week and a few drift migrants started appearing. I managed to finish work a bit early on Friday evening and got to the east Norfolk coast as the rain began to fall. I had high hopes for a Wryneck or Greenish and wild dreams of a Booted or even Syke's Warbler (well we can at least dream). In the end a tally of four Pied Flys, two Whinchats and six Wheatears was not bad for an afternoon punt-about.
I started out at Happisburgh, parked up at the cricket club and walked towards the cliff edge. Around the pillboxes and dung piles I had two juvenile Wheatears and one adult male Wheatear. Also a single juvenile Whinchat.

A juvenile Wheatear keeps ahead of me on the path

Juvenile Whinchat
I was on my way back to the cricket club when something flew from the willows on the edge of the garden of the very last house before the cliff - Pied Flycatcher. Didn't give great views but it put a smile on my face at least.

Pied Flycatcher, Happisburgh, Norfolk
I did a quick check of the trees alongside the cricket club and a lap around the cemetery but it was quiet there. After that I parked up near the lighthouse and checked the general area there. I was just thinking that the overgrown meadow with all the Ragwort and Angelicas looked quite 'Whinchatty' - when a second juvenile Whinchat popped up. It was joined by another Wheatear and they even obliged for a photo together on nearby fence.

Having a bit of a 'chat' (groan!)
The rest of the area was quiet so I headed over towards Cart Gap and walked down Doggett Lane where I came across three Pied Flycatchers. I fared a little better this time with the camera. One bird at least played ball.

Happisburgh Lighthouse and Church from Cart Gap, Norfolk

The next day I birded Great Yarmouth cemetery and Winterton South Dunes in the late afternoon but there seemed to have been a clear-out and I didn't have a single migrant at all.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The Chicken of the Swamp

I first heard about the Minsmere Purple Swamphen on Sunday evening after I returned home from an afternoon birding (Norfolk 3G grrrhhhh!!!!). Anyway, like some I was a little dubious at first. But this bird had its advocates, right subspecies, recent and notable dispersal from its nearest breeding grounds in southern France and a very recent record in Brittany. I couldn't go on Sunday night, almost went at 4.30am on Monday morning but in the end I threw my gear into the car on the way to work on Monday morning and twitched it that evening.

Purple Swamphen twitch, Minsmere, Suffolk
I'm still taken aback by the crowds at UK twitches, even though I shouldn't be at this stage. Biggest Irish twitch I recall was for the first Irish record of Blyth's Reed Warbler on Mizen Head in 2007*. I think there was ten of us - at the most.

Blyth's Reed Warbler twitch, Mizen Head, Cork - 2007. Look at the crowds!!!
Anyway, back to Minsmere. The bird was elusive but I got decent enough views, no mistaking what it was, unlike the recent Scoter twitch. 
Photos were harder though, mainly because of distance, numbers of people and high growing vegetation. But I managed a blog worthy record shot.

Purple Swamphen, RSPB Minsmere, Suffolk
The poor bird has been given many different monikers - Purple Swamp Chicken, Purple Swamp Monster, Swamp Donkey and Purple-helmeted Swamp Chicken (yes guilty!). Knob gags aside, it does really have good credentials and these have been excellently presented by Josh Jones and Hugo Touze in this Birdguides article. 
Hard to see a strong reason not to add this species now to the British list. On the subject of lists then, on my way home from Minsmere I started to formulate a new list in my head. Its the "Birds I dashed out of work to twitch" list. I started on it ten years ago in Cork when my birding was I suppose at the 'moulting of juvenile feathers' stage. The first bird I twitched from work with a mad dash was an Isabelline Shrike on the Old Head of Kinsale in 2006. I ran the list through my head and its got some fond memories, here are the highlights:

Spotted Sandpiper - Shanagarry, Cork - 2007
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper - Ballycotton, Cork - 2007
Dusky Warbler - Ballycotton village, Cork - 2007
Pallas's Warbler - Phil's back passage (yes, really!), Ballycotton village, Cork - 2007
Ivory Gull - Baltimore, Cork - 2009
Citrine Wagtail - Tramore, Waterford - 2009
Two-barred Crossbill, Lynford Arborteum, Norfolk - 2013
Steppe Grey Shrike, Burnham Norton, Norfolk - 2014
Purple Swamphen, Minsmere, Suffolk - 2016

*Footnote: The 2007 Mizen Head BRW was considered the first Irish record at the time. However it was since usurped by a Cape Clear record from 2006 that was initially considered a Reed Warbler until re-identified from photos. There is also a very interesting account of an Acrocephalus spp. found on Cape Clear in 1969 by Clive Hutchinson, Ken Preston and Tim Sharrock which certainly had all the right credentials for BRW (see Partricide by Anthony McGeehan).

Friday, 29 July 2016

The perfect antidote

We didn't waste much time licking our wounds and soon we were heading south again, this time for the beautiful county of Northumberland. We over-nighted in the village of Beal within striking distance of the historic island of Lindisfarne. Rare American ducks were put behind us as we sought out scarce plants, butterflies and some other avian treats.
After a very decent Lebanese take-away washed down with a wee dram o' Speyside single malt (thanks James Lowen), we hit the hay before midnight. Snoring aside - I slept pretty well!
The next morning we searched around the Snook on Holy Island for the scarce (dare I say rare?) Lindisfarne Helleborine. Fortunately we managed to find several of these pretty orchids - more exciting for James and Nick if I'm really honest but Dark Green Fritillary was a nice bonus for me.

Snook Tower, Holy Island, Northumerland

Dark-Green Fritillary
Lindisfarne Helleborine (crappy iphone shot)

James paps the trifid!

Nick had a go too!
We didn't stay long on Holy Island and our next stop was at the pretty (ahem!) town of Newbiggin-on-sea. A quick scan with the scopes and we had our Roseate Terns. A mix of adults and juveniles. Only my second ever sighting of the species (previously Ballycotton, Cork in 2008) and for James his first since 1990.

Roseate Terns with Common Terns
Next stop was the A189 bridge over the Wansbeck estuary for Bonaparte's Gull. With traffic rushing past on one side and a nice fifty foot drop into the estuary on the other as well as the sheets of rain - I didn't particularily enjoy twitching this bird but at least it was there and it was easy....unlike it fellow countryman the Scoter!

2cy Bonaparte's Gull, Wansbeck estuary
A couple of quick stops for Young's and Tyne Helleborine (both of which I missed in favour of ice cream and minding our gear in the car!). In my defence here, I'm still struggling with Birds, Dragonflies and Butterflies never mind adding Moths and Orchids to the whole confusing mix. I will probably regret not seeing those last two Helleborines but there was a Mr. Whippy nearby for goodness sake!
Our last stop was Bishop Middleham quarry near Durham (where Bee-eaters bred in 2002 no less). We were here for Dark-red Helleborine - which I admit was stunning (well OK - it was nice!) and Northern Brown Argus (or even "Durham" Argus if you like).

Bishop Middleham Quarry, Durham

Dark Red Helleborine

Still harassing the trifids - Orchids!
Northern Brown Argusesssss (Argei?) were thin on the ground - James found two and it didn't matter that they were tatty - still things of beauty really.

Northern Brown "Durham" Argus
After that it really was time to pack up and headhome. We reached Norwich sometime after 10pm that night, one thousand mile round-trip, three UK ticks (Surf Scoter, Bonaparte's Gull and Roseate Tern), two new Butterflies (Northern Brown Argus and Dark Green Fritillary) and some very nice weeds (sorry - last time - Helleborines). Not to mention the great company and craic - we'd almost forgotten about dipping the Scoter......almost!