The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

NGB - 'Norfolk = Great Birding'

I've not been much of a social birder since I moved away from the area of my hometown RSPB group, and rarely had much to do with birders my age at any time.  Not really through choice I hasten to add, though I've certainly enjoyed the freedom of birding alone.
So, when I got the chance to join with the Next Generation Birders on a weekend in Norfolk, I put in a great deal of effort to get the time off work, and sort out accommodation, in order to go.
After coming up to King's Lynn late on Friday night (picking up Amy Robjohns, Liam Curson, and Ollie Simms on the way), we were out first light on Saturday to stake out Golden Pheasant at the famous Wolferton triangle.  Despite seeding the verges, there was no sign, with only a calling Brambling by way of compensation.
We gave them some time to appear, and popped down the road to Roydon Common, a site I've not been to before. 

We were hoping to see the Shrike, but despite a report that it was still present, we failed.  We, being a group of 13 or so of us.

There was little of interest here otherwise, other than the nice New Forest/Thursley Common-esque landscape.

We headed back to Wolferton, only to immediately come across the hoped-for Golden Pheasant. Clearly it appreciated the peace and quiet away from us!

Onto Hunstanton and a brief look from the cliffs there.

As you can see, we were all captivated by the tick of Fulmar!

Holme golf course was the next location, and on arrival we flushed a pair of Grey Partridge, and had a Red-throated Diver fly past.  Eventually, the hoped-for flock of 9 Snow Bunting made an appearance.  Just before leaving, I got a glimpse of a Long-tailed Duck landing behind the dunes. Never saw it again frustratingly!

We moved on to Thornham Channel...

...where a nice flock of Twite showed close-to.

Titchwell is a must-visit whilst in the area, and as always, it produced the goods.  A Water Pipit was immediately found on the freshmarsh, and a very distant Great Northern Diver was on the sea - much rarer here than back home.

A quick nip into Choseley guaranteed us Corn Bunting, and a look at Burnham Overy found us the first of many Barn Owl.

Another site it's illegal to bypass whilst in north Norfolk is Cley, and our determination to go was heightened even more by news of an American Wigeon.  While this turned out to be phony, we did however have other goodies to look for, with a distant White-fronted Goose, and the overwintering Garganey, showing to us.

After a failed attempt at wild swans, we headed to the roost at Stubb's Mill, Hickling Broad.  We were worried we'd be too late, but as it happens it was very good timing. 

A male Hen Harrier was a fantastic sight as always, along with 2 ringtails.  A few Chinese Water Deer were around too.

We eventually got onto 2 rather elusive Crane nearby, but as the sun set, we were worried that would be it from our main target.

But, just as we were leaving in almost complete darkness, we heard the evocative and unmistakable sound of a large flock of them coming in to roost.  32 to be precise - the largest number for a while there apparently.  This video is a documentation of the moment (and sounds), rather than the visuals!

I finished the day on the personal total of exactly 100 species - by quite a margin my most prolific day ever.

After a night in Norwich, Sunday dawned, and my birthday - would it be fitting as a birthday treat?  We started off at the promising-looking Breydon Water - another first-visit for me.

We were rather hoping to see the Richard's Pipit that had been around all winter, but there was initially no sign. 

113 Avocet were on the water (yes, I bothered to count them), and I heard a Spotted Redshank, which later showed well to all.

As we approached the limit of the Pipit's favoured range, a bird was flushed, and flew off into the distance.  During it's rather long flight, it joined flocks of Skylark, and then Meadow Pipit, allowing a perfect comparison.  We concluded it could only really have been the Richard's Pipit! Good thing it wasn't a lifer!

We moved down the road to Halvergate Marshes...

Where, as I experienced 2 weeks ago, a Rough-legged Buzzard was immediately in view.  Although others were disappointed to see it sat around, I enjoyed seeing it like this, being the opposite behaviour to the Jevington bird.

 After that, I was incompetent in not seeing the Bewick's Swan flock that everyone else was looking at, at a nearby site.  Then it was on to Thorpe Green, Norwich, to twitch a species I see every day.
Even so, it was showing rather well...

I'm being unnecessarily facetious really, cause it was nice to admire the 1st-winter Mediterranean Gull so close.

We then moved south to the Breckland of Suffolk, and the curious site of Santon Downham. 

Curious, cause it seemed to be a small reedbed in the middle of a woodland.  Nonetheless, it did hold the species we'd missed the day before, a Great Grey Shrike.  A close-up view revealed scaly underparts (indicating a 1st-winter) - not something I can remember noticing before.

A site which is always worth a visit is Lynford Arboretum (despite my previous visits being Two-barred Crossbill dips).  The main target was elusive, with only a Brambling the compensation once again. 

Luckily though, two Hawfinch were eventually seen round the usual paddocks.

We then briefly popped into a site for Goshawk, but failed, only seeing a Red Kite of note.  A short-tailed passerine I glimpsed was probably a Woodlark, but I didn't get enough on it.

Our penultimate stop was a housing estate in Mildenhall...

...where a Waxwing showed beautifully - always a pleasure.

The rather fitting finale was a dusk visit to Lakenheath Fen...

...where a Great White Egret was flying around.  But, the highlight was the still conditions, red sunset, and the sight and sound of thousands of Jackdaw and Rook coming in to roost above our heads. Mind-blowing! 
Personal trip total: 120 species.
A wonderful weekend then, and it was great to meet all the brilliant young birders.  A big thanks to them all for the great company, but particularly James Shergold and Jake Gearty, who did most of the organisation. I look forward to the next one guys!
Mmm. Maybe I should start birding Portland again? I almost forgot! ;-)
I suppose it's back to being a birding-loner once again. :-(

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Pacific Time!

Two and a half weeks have passed since my last post, and there have been some humdingers of birding days in that time. Sorry about the length once again - must try and post more often.  Where do I start?

Well, I suppose I better relate details of the so far rather neglected patch birding adventures.  On the 16th I managed a wave of ticks which included a Red-necked Grebe and a distant Black-throated Diver in the harbour.  

I also spent the evening looking for Owls around the Verne, surprisingly hearing a Little, and seeing the hoped-for Barn (in complete darkness!).

This was also the day I discovered I was going to be whisked into the world of land management, as the main mind behind transforming a churchyard into a wildlife garden. Watch out for more developments in my next post.

On the morning of the 20th, I made the unexpected discovery of a pair of Wigeon in Portland Harbour - this was the last of the dabbling ducks to fall last year.  As a result of my less-than-enthusiastic patching so far, I'm currently 8 species behind on last year.

Later on that day, I headed back to Surrey, and I had a quick look at Tice's Meadow on the way, flushing 2 Yellowhammer from by the mound, seeing a Green Sandpiper on the stream, and a load of Fieldfare attempting to roost in the reedbed at dusk - an interesting observation.

That weekend, Amy Robjohns ( ) and I were hoping to do a bird race (along with Josie Hewitt) around the south of England (in which I was hoping to trash my personal previous day record of 85), but that sadly fell through. 

To make up for it, on the 25th myself and Amy embarked on quite a trek all round Sussex, seeking its best birds.

First of all, we went after one of Amy's bogey-birds, Grey Partridge, at The Burgh.  As in previous visits, they were calling as soon as we left the car!  The other highlights here were a Red Kite, and a small herd of Bewick's Swan on a very distant wet field in the valley below.

We moved quite a bit more to the East, and to the tiny village of Jevington, near Eastbourne.  On arrival, the superb Rough-legged Buzzard was immediately lording it over its winter territory, in great light.

I took the opportunity to put my new video camera through its paces.

After that triumph, we headed back west, this time to an old stomping ground of mine of Littlehampton (Well, I lived there for only 6 months). 

It took a bit of a wait, but eventually the 2nd-winter Kumlien's Gull soared into view, before quickly disappearing.  It gave us the runaround a bit, but we eventually saw it pretty well, though it never landed. Not easy to get any images in this case.

We moved to the north-west, and the heathland site of Iping Common.  I knew how difficult (mobile) our quarry could be, so imagine my surprise when I spotted the Great Grey Shrike as soon as we got to the spot it was supposed to be.
We ended the day at West Dean Woods, though despite a good view of the regular Little Owl pair, and some vocal Marsh Tit, the place was a tad disappointing, with no Hawfinch. With the luck we got from the rest of the day though, we really shouldn't complain! 4 out of 5 - a right result.
Yesterday, I joined the Next Gen Birders at Blashford Lakes.  We largely spent the time dipping Ferruginous Duck at Kingfisher Lake, dipping Great Grey Shrike at nearby Ibsley Common....

...dipping Great White Egret at Ivy Lake, and finally, dipping Ring-billed Gull in the gull roost from Goosander hide...

...On top of that, Joe Stockwell and myself had earlier dipped the Poole Harbour Smew in addition! Thinking about it, I suppose I'd used up all my luck the previous weekend! 

However, it was a testament to the company I was with that I enjoyed it enormously.  This is why I'm putting in a big effort to try and go on more of these such events. P.S. We did see the Long-tailed Duck ;-)

Yesterday, I embarked on a journey to Cornwall for a second attempt at the Pacific Diver in Mount's Bay, this time with Keith Pritchard ( ).  On the way, things were looking dodgy for a while...

...luckily this was a very localised happening, on Bodmin Moor.
Once there, we struggled in strong wind and sunlight.  But, we eventually got on a promising-looking bird in the middle of the bay.  We moved round to the Mount itself...

Part of this walk involved stepping onto the rather lunar-landscape adjacent...

From here, I spotted the bird again not far offshore.  The views obtained left us in no doubt. Such dark upperparts, and such a stubby little bill!  Impossible to get any sort of image in the hoolie sadly.

After that triumph, we moved onto nearby Falmouth, and to the tiny inlet of Bream Cove.  A nice spot...

...with interesting geology (this shot isn't on its side by the way)...

...though sadly, it was King Eider-less.

Nonetheless, it had been a successful and enjoyable day.

What next? Well, a bit of patch birding beckons (finally), and then it's off to Norfolk for the weekend with NGB! Going to be cracking I'm sure!