Sunday, 8 January 2017

The Great White

Today, I thought I would take a look around Bowthorpe for the Great White Egret and while I'm at it I would use my birdwatching permit and pop into nearby Bawburgh Fisheries and see if there would be a Goosander or a Smew or a Slavonian Grebe hiding on one of the gravel pits.
I checked Bowthorpe Marsh / West Earlham Marsh first but no sign of the Egret. I had better luck at Bawburgh Fisheries though,  a quick scan of the first gravel pit and I could see the Egret on the very far side.

Great White Egret, Bawburgh Fisheries, Colney, Norwich
I assume this is a returning bird. I recall looking for a Great White Egret around Bawbrugh itself in February 2013, photographing one at Bowthorpe in February 2015 and one wintering again in 2015/2016. Most certainly the same bird involved all along.

Great White Egret, West Earlham Marsh - February 2015

With a Pike at Bowthorpe Marsh - March 2016
Sadly though no Smew or Goosander or anything else of note. Small numbers of Gadwall, Tufties, Coot and several Great Crested Grebe. A Kingfisher did a quick fly-by as I scoped the Egret.
From there I decided to drive down to Kessingland in Suffolk to check out the wintering Pallas's Warbler at the sewage works. I found the spot but not the bird. All I could conjure up there was a Goldcrest and two nominate race Chiffers.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

The ups and downs of 2016

Well that is 2016 and its time to reflect on my best and worst birding moments of the past twelve months. Starting with the highlights, in reverse order, here they are!

The best bits!

Number Three:

Thayer's Gull, Minsmere, Suffolk.

Definitely a case of right place and right time. A first ever visit to Minsmere coincided with this very convincing candidate for Thayer's Gull. Throw in Caspian Gull, Jack Snipe, Glaucous Gull, Bittern and the first Sand Martins of the spring and it was a very good day's birding all in all.
For a full account read Thayer's Gull, Minsmere

Number Two:

Isabelline Wheatear, Burnham Overy, Norfolk

The first twitchable Izzy Wheatear in Norfolk for 39 years. A great find by Dave Andrews and a species I'd only seen previously in Bulgaria in 2009. Tiredness, a head cold and work commitments meant I waited an extra day before going to see it but I need not have worried as it was still hanging around Gun Hill in early December. See Two good 'ears

Number One:

The Norwich Garden Birds Challenge

Just goes to show that it doesn't have to be all about rareities, some of the best birding is under your nose. Seventeen of us embarked on a little competition in 2016 to see who could rack up the most species seen or heard from or in our Norwich gardens during the year. As we had moved into the house in late December 2015, I had no real idea whether the garden would be any good, though being slap bang in the middle of an estate, I had low expectations.
I finished on 54 species. Several are 60 plus and Will Soar must be near 90 by now. But I've had some good highlights along the way which have included, a flock of Waxwings in late November which took up residence in the trees overlooking the garden for a couple of weeks. A fly-over Arctic Tern, seven bird of prey species including Hobby, Marsh Harrier and Red Kite, and a flushing a Woodcock in the back garden one November morning was a very pleasant surprise. I missed Coal Tit, Goldcrest, Fieldfare and Chiffchaff but maybe they'll show up in 2017. Also, within a fifteen minute walk of the house I had Nightingale, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler and Great White Egret, putting paid to the idea that you need to travel to see good birds.

The worst bits!

Number three

The epic 'deglandi' dip

Myself, Nick Watmough and James Lowen headed from Norwich to Aberdeen one Friday evening in July to twitch the deglandi White-winged Scoter off Murcar Golf Links. Its a long way to go not to see a bird and after seven hours of scanning the huge rafts of sea-ducks we had to admit defeat.

All was not lost though, the rest of the weekend included Roseate Tern, Bonaparte's Gull, Durham Brown Argus, some great company and craic, a first time ever on Lindisfarne / Holy Island and some rare orchids!

Full account here

Number two

The trip that never was - Kolka Cape, Latvia

I had been looking forward to visiting Kolka Cape in Latvia all year. Spring is good in Latvia and I expected a few days of migrant hunting on this little promontory to deliver some great birds. But I hadn't even reached the place when my tyre blew out. I couldn't find a replacement for love or money in the entire country, so in the end I had to cancel my plans and return home.
A mixed week in Latvia

Number One

The feeling that despite it being a year where I saw Siberian Accentor, Isabelline Wheatear, Purple Gallinule, Great Knot and Thayer's Gull, that I didn't get as much enjoyment from my birding as I feel I should have. Maybe its over-familiarity, the over-crowded UK birding scene, having less time to bird (work / study etc.) or just one of those years but hoping 2017 will be feel different!

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Two helpings of Christmas Goose

I'm not usually a Goose person - not even sure I like the taste of them ;-). However, two "goosey" ticks were up for grabs in north Norfolk this holiday season. Despite once unsuccessfully searching through the Barnacle flocks in Lissadell, Co. Sligo, I have never seen a bona fide wild Canada Goose. So the Todd's Canada Goose at Docking would be a lifer as would the Red-breasted Goose. In fact whatever chance I ever had of seeing a wild Canada Goose back in Ireland, Red-breasted Goose is not even on the Irish list (Correction - there is one category A record of an individual that was present from 26th October 1997 to 16th March 1998 on the North Slob, Co. Wexford).
It took two attempts to see them both. On the 27th December I managed to see the Todd's Canada Goose. It was distant though as this heavily cropped shot bears testimony to.

Todd's Canada Goose, Docking, Norfolk
To my surprise, I actually enjoyed scanning through the thousands of Pinks, picking out a few Tundra Beans, a juvenile White-fronted Goose and a Barnacle Goose. But the Red-breasted was nowhere to be seen and hadn't been reported since Christmas Day. I finished the day off with a quick jaunt over to Titchwell where I headed straight for beach and enjoyed views of Common Scoter, Goldeneye, Scaup and a few Velvet Scoters mixed in.

Velvet Scoters on the wing at Titchwell beach, 27 December 2016
On the 29th December, I toyed with the idea of driving to Derbyshire for the Dusky Thrush, but the A17 with a heavy frost didn't appeal. Plus would I rather spend seven hours driving and three hours birding or six hours birding and only two hours driving? Easy answer there! The Red-breasted Goose had been seen briefly on the evening of the 27th December so I thought, if I give it time and patience, I'll see it. And so that's what happened.
It took maybe two hours of scanning before it was pinned down. As far as geese go its a stunner, in fact as far as any bird species goes its a stunner. Beautiful brick red chest and overall very dapper looking in the winter sunshine. Well worth the effort and I even got a flight view as it commuted from one field to another.

Red-breasted Goose, Docking, Norfolk - 29th December 2016
Once the goose was in the bag - so to speak. I had a little fun photographing the Pinks. The sheer numbers are amazing. At one stage, courtesy of some gun totting, pheasant shooting numbskull - the whole lot got up. They settled in the next field on but the noise and numbers were impressive.

Pinks in flight

Then the whole lot got up!
Once again, I finished off the afternoon at Titchwell scanning the rafts of Scoters on the incoming tide.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Garden Waxwings

Saturday morning and out I went to fill up the feeders in the back garden. Perched on top of the trees overlooking the garden was a flock of Starlings......or so I thought. I did a retake though when I heard the sound of 'trilling' bells and then realised that the Starlings were in fact Waxwings. One of those birding dreams you have as a have a flock of Waxwings in your own back garden. I put a plate of apples out but couldn't tempt them down. Following what was a cold frosty night they spent the next couple of hours just sitting in those trees enjoying the sunshine. By 10.30am they vanished, appearing later in the afternoon as the light was dimming.
Sunday morning and they were back again and this time the flock had swelled to over thirty birds. They were dropping occassionally onto to a couple of rowan trees further up the road but spent more time flycatching from the tree-tops.

Waxwings (plus lone Starling) - taken from the bedroom window :-)

Monday, 21 November 2016

Local Wax

Work and studying and ever shortening amounts of daylight are collectively curtailing my birding activities.
I got back late Friday night after a week spent in York where I had been receiving a crash course on Physiology, Pharmacology and Immunology. Between work, studying for an exam and winter's ever tightening grip, the birding has been few and far between.
All is not lost though. A flock of Waxwings has taken up residence locally, so I popped out last Saturday afternoon and again on Sunday morning for a quick look.
They are rapidly munching their way through the Rowans on Charles Watling Way near Bowthorpe and also on Chapel Break Road. The flock was approximately twenty-five birds though some reports say fifty plus so I suspect they are being joined from time to time by a second flock. The flock is a bit skittish and light was bad so not great photos - but still, as always, great birds!

Waxwing, Bowthorpe, Norwich

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Winter is coming

I always tend to think of the last weekend of October as being the end of the autumn season. Some years, particularily in Cork, if the winds stayed east November could produce some stragglers, but typically it seems to bring the curtain down on the best time of the year for birding.
Between one thing and another I didn't have much time available to get out this weekend. I suppose if there had been a Norfolk Pied Wheatear or Eastern Black Redstart - I might have made the time then.
As it happened I made it to Happisburgh late on Sunday afternoon for one final walk about. I birded around the cricket club, church yard and up as far as the coast watch buildings. A really beautiful warm, still and misty Autumn evening. The best I could muster up was a Black Redstart on the dung heaps up by the coast watch buildings.

Black Redstart, Happisburgh, Norfolk - 30th October 2016
So that is kind of it for Autumn. I'm back studying part-time too so there will probably be even less birding this winter than usual. Its been an OKish Autumn overall, not vintage for me. It started in mid-August with a nice smattering of Pied Flycatchers and Whinchats (Signs of Autumn), followed by a duo of Wrynecks (Double Jynx and Corton's Jynx), a Red-backed Shrike at Winterton (Slimish-pickings), my week off spent around Happisburgh was enjoyable though I failed to find anything other than Firecrests, Black and Common Redstarts and YBW. Siberian Accentor (The Russian Dunnock) and Isabelline Wheatear (Two good 'ears) were the highlights, I particularily enjoyed the latter especially with the bonus female Desert Wheatear thrown in.
Now its time for the Geese and Gulls though possibly the Waxwings and Shorelarks will keep us interested for the next few months.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Two good 'ears

Though pleased to have connected with the Easington Siberian Accentor, I was still a little disappointed not to have been able to pop back across from York during the week to see the Isabelline Wheatear. Alas the training course was full on and there was no opportunity to duck out. However, all was not lost. Hot on the heals of finding a Red-flanked Bluetail, Dave Andrews scored again with a very fine Isabelline Wheatear at Burnham Overy Dunes on Friday 21st October (see James Lowens superbly titled account on his blog - Isabella's knickers).
Tiredness, a head cold, anticipation of crowds (it was after all the first twitchable Norfolk bird in 39 years) and 'stuff' to do at home all added together and meant I didn't venture up there until Sunday morning to see the bird. That was taking a bit of a chance but I was lucky and the bird had stayed.
Numbers were not as small as expected on Sunday either. A female Desert Wheatear and a Pallas's Warbler were also drawing the crowds. When we arrived the Isabelline Wheatear was showing to about 20-30 gathered birders. The bird was distant though and mobile.
I moved up to the brow of the dune ridge and sat down. The bird was probably a good 500 yards away at this point and I felt my best chance would be if it moved closer in its own time. Which it did, though not that close.

Isabelline Wheatear, Burnham Overy Dunes, Norfolk - 23rd October 2016
With the crowds increasing and the bird being ever mobile, I felt the next option was to head further west and look for the female Desert Wheatear. Thankfully this bird was a lot more obliging.

Female Desert Wheatear, Burnham Overy Dunes, Norfolk - 23rd October 2016

And even sat still long enough for an obligatory video!

I have edited out the sound because the background noise of the wind is pretty annoying - which is a pity because there is also the background noise of an arguement between a birder and a photographer that was quite entertaining!
We should have finished the day at that point but instead drove to Brancaster Staithe and yomped out along the beach to where a Black-throated Thrush had been seen earlier that morning consorting with a Redwing flock (maybe the recent Scolt Head bird?). Anywho - there was no sign sadly and the walk nearly killed me - I arrived back in a total sweat to the car and have been laid up with a head cold since! The price you pay I guess.