Sunday, 24 January 2010

BITTERN and BEAN GOOSE - Two firsts for the patch

With Yellowhammer being the most obvious gap on my patch year list, I decided to have a walk round Sidestrand where I regularly see them. As I was walking down a hedgerow, I inadvertently flushed a Goose sp. from the beet field on the other side of the hedge and as I watched it fly off into the distance, I quickly narrowed it down to a Pinkfoot/Bean Goose and from its call I strongly suspected the latter. As I watched it heading off I was resigned to putting it down to the one that got away, and was annoyed with myself that I hadn't spotted it in the field before it took flight as it was a potential patch tick.
I continued to watch it as it was flying away and noticed that it suddenly started to circle round and then started heading back towards me. I crouched down low against the hedge in the hope that it may return to the field but it flew slightly inland and appeared to drop down in a field about a mile or so away. I decided that the best course of action was to go back and grab my scope and drive round to where it had apparently gone down and hopefully refind it to clinch the id.
I made my way back onto the main coast road and as I passed the beet field from the opposite side I glanced across it and noticed a large bird gliding slowly down into the field. I initially thought it was the goose returning but quickly realised the silhouette was wrong and presumed it was the heron I had seen a couple of minutes earlier, I casually raised my bins to check it out and was stunned to see that it was in fact a BITTERN and it was standing right out in the open in the middle of the beet field!
It quickly walked up against the hedge and out of sight but moving my position I quickly relocated it up against the hedgerow. As this was a patch Mega I made a few frantic phone calls and a few minutes later a couple of local birders had arrived and were enjoying this once in a lifetime patch bird.
I then dashed back to get my scope and camera and as I was returning I noticed that the Goose sp. was circling around overhead and it eventually came down in the same field as the Bittern but just over the brow of the hill. I decided to have another quick look at the Bittern first before going on to see the goose, and took a few record shots of it before it took flight and went over the hedge.
I then walked further along the road where the Goose could now be seen, and indeed it was a BEAN GOOSE, the second new patch tick of the day, and more amazingly both were in the same field! I took a few shots of it, but as more people had then arrived for the Bittern, I went to help in relocating it.

Unfortunately there was no further sign of the Bittern, which had potentially either flown straight inland when it flew, or it had subsequently been flushed by a dog walker who was making their way along the edge of the field, but at least the Bean Goose was hanging around for them to see. I then decided to get back to my original plan and carried on walking the nearby hedgerows and located a small group of Yellowhammers, the males looking beautiful in their bright plumage.
Having heard it calling on a couple of previous occasions, my target for the 25th was to try to see the Water Rail that was in the small reedbed adjacent to Felbrigg Lake. I decided my best bet was to set myself up by the small stream that runs in to the reedbed in the hope that I would see it walk across and waited patiently. I eventually could hear something moving about in the reeds and after a while could hear it making a few quiet calls as it was getting nearer and nearer. Another patient wait of about 15 minutes and I was eventualy rewarded with it quickly dashing across a gap in the reeds. I gave it about another 20 minutes and after having another equally brief view it eventually emerged in the stream where it fed for a few seconds out in the open, rewarding my patience well.
A return visit to the Bean Goose field on the 26th revealed that it was still around and had now taken up company with an Egyptian Goose, which in itself is a fairly scarce occassional visitor to the patch, and both birds seemed fairly settled feeding on the beet tops which had been left after harvesting. As the photo below shows, the Bean was pretty much the same size as the Egyptian Goose, and served to confirm its id as a Tundra Bean Goose as opposed to the much larger Taiga (sub) species. The short neck, limited orange on the bill, and deep lower mandible all reinforced the id as Tundra too.

Whilst watching the geese a couple of Foxes entered the field and started to chase each other around. Instead of taking flight, the two geese just froze, occasionally glancing around at the foxes who seemed more interested in each other than the geese, and they eventually both trotted off through the hedge and out of sight leaving the geese to carry on feeding in safety.

A trip down to West Runton later that afternoon produced a Barn Owl hunting the meadows down the beach road, and it conviniently landed on a post in front of where I had positioned myself and allowed me to get the photo below.

A another visit to Felbrigg Lake on the 28th showed that a few Pochard were now present on the lake, and a drake Pintail was lurking amongst the wooded islands on the far side, both of which were new for the year. A couple of Barn Owls were also noted hunting the adjacent meadows.
A look round Sidestrand on the 29th for a Peregrine that had been seen earlier in the week drew a blank, but I did manage to see the first Common Buzzard of the year perched up in a tree, and the first Grey Wagtail of the year too which was feeding around a manure pile in the field opposite.
An overnight snowfall made the scenery picturesque, and another visit to look for the Tundra Bean Goose on the morning of the 30th showed it was still feeding happily in the beet field, along with the Egyptian Goose, and it posed for some better photos than I had managed up till now.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Firecrest and the thaw continues

With temperatures continuing to rise, and previously frozen water bodies now thawing out, the first Tufted Ducks, Coot and Little Grebe for the year were found around the patch.

I also had a very curious encounter with a pair of Muntjac deer, when instead of running off into the woods as the female did, the male of the pair decided to front up to me and started to hit its front leg into the ground and then started to loudly bark at me! As I was only a few feet away I slowly backed off as it continued to bark doing so for a number of minutes even when I had long moved out of sight.

A phone call from my Dad informed me that he was watching a Firecrest in Felbrigg Park, so I quickly made my way up there and was treated to good views of it as it moved through the trees in the car park. Also whilst we were there a flock of Crossbills flew over and landed in the larches where we were able to watch them feeding and showed them to a couple of other visiting birders. They then flew back into the main wood and I estimated there were around 35 birds present.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Gulls and Geese

News of a Glaucous Gull having been seen at Sheringham had me checking the beach at West Runton in case it had made it along to there but there was no sign and a further update on the bird came through to say it was still at Sheringham. I therefore made my way along there and quickly located it sitting on one of the groynes along the seafront. I watched it for a minute or so before it took flight and steadily flew along the beach to the east, and once it was obvious that it wasn't just having a fly round but purposely heading off I quickly made my way back to West Runton to again see if it would stop and feed on the beach there as there had been a good number of Gulls there over the last few days.
Upon arrival at West Runton I quickly scanned the beach to the west but drew a blank, so quickly looked to the east and was delighted to pick it up slowly flying along the tideline. It briefly landed on the beach but was soon flushed by a dog walker and again carried on east before landing again on the beach. Again it was flushed by walkers but just went out onto the sea before returning to the beach almost off East Runton now.
I phoned out the news that I had relocated it and a number of people arrived shortly later and we continued to watch it albeit at great distance. Once again it was flushed by a walker but this time it headed back west and flew right back along the beach in front of the small crowd in the car park, and then returned to Sheringham.
As it was the warmest day of the year so far, I decided to go up to Felbrigg Park in the evening for the slight chance of seeing a Tawny Owl, with no luck, but good numbers of Woodcock were seen flying out of the woods to feed in the meadows at dusk, and a bat sp. (presumably a pipistrelle) was seen hawking around the field edge and had obviously come out of hibernation due to the warmth of the day.
The previous few days had seen me carefully scrutinizing the fairly large low-tide gatherings of Gulls at West Runton in the hope of picking out a Lesser Black-Backed Gull which is fairly scarce in the county during winter (I only manage to see one on the patch when they start to return in March/April time), so I was very pleased to find one on the sea off West Runton on the 19th. The wintering adult Med Gull was in the car park as usual.
A visit to Felbrigg Park on the 20th revealed that the (feral) Goose flock had returned after having been absent during all the freezing weather, with 17 Greylags and 4 Canadas being present.
On the 21st I decided to check the Cromer ridge in the hope of finding a wintering Firecrest, and whilst in the woods I heard a distant sound of what I initially thought was a small dog yelping but after a short while I heard the noise again and quickly realised that it was a flock of Geese approaching and by the calls strongly suspected that they were Whitefronts. Fortunately they passed right overhead allowing me to pick out the barring on their bellies as they went over the tree-tops, and I estimated there was about 30 birds in the flock, only my second ever record of Whitefronts for the patch.
A Chinese Water Deer at Sidestrand was the first one I had recorded on the patch.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Snettisham and Pale-bellied Brents

A trip along to Snettisham produced the hoped for Shorelarks with two feeding at the far end of the shingle beach. Out on the mudflats large flocks of Knot wheeled round in the air in spectacular fashion and a Peregrine flew past.
Back on the patch, a Barn Owl was hunting the old golf practice ground on the outskirts of Cromer, and two Pale-bellied Brent Geese were with a single Dark-bellied Brent at Trimingham, with these birds being part of an influx of pale-bellied birds this winter, with record numbers of them being noted in the east of the county.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

A day around The Broads

Today was spent around the Norfolk Broads with first port of call being Barton Broad. A sizeable flock of Lesser Redpolls and Siskins were in the alders by the boardwalk, and a ringtail Hen Harrier was seen briefly through the tree tops as it passed over. The drake Ferruginous Duck was quickly located amongst an assorted flock including Pochard, Tufted Ducks and Goldeneye. Further back against the reeds at least a couple of splendid drake Smews were located as well as a female.
A brief stop at Wroxham Broad produced a female Ruddy Duck, an increasingly scare bird now following the continuing cull of birds, then it was on to Cantley where despite the now torrential rain, a small flock of Taiga Bean Geese were found, along with some White-fronted Geese.

Final stop of the day was the watchpoint at Stubbs Mill, Hickling where an excellent time was had with at least 19 Common Cranes seen to go to roost, plus others heard calling, a Merlin was perched in a dead tree, 2 ringtail Hen Harriers, numerous Marsh Harriers including a tight flock of about 40 birds all wheeling round together in the air, 5000+ Pink-footed Geese came in to roost and about a dozen Woodcock flying out onto the marshes as dusk approached.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Purple Sandpiper and Mandarins return to Felbrigg

Despite Purple Sandpipers regularly wintering along Sheringham seafront only a mile or so along the beach from West Runton, and the rock pools there looking ideal for them to feed in at low time, near daily checking of the beach there over this (and last) winter had produced a blank, but that all changed today when standing on the clifftop overlooking the beach I heard one call and picked it up as it flew low along the rocky foreshore and landed by the groyne at the bottom of the slope.

I made my way down to the beach and eventually relocated it amongst the rocks, though it was extremely elusive as its plumage made it superbly camouflaged and it would easily disappear down between the rocks. With the tide coming in fast it flew again and to my surprise joined a second bird and they proceeded to chase each other round the small bit of beach that was still uncovered before moving off, presumably back to Sheringham to roost over high tide.

Also on the beach where an unusually high number of other waders, with a dozen Knot, Dunlin, a few Sanderlings and good numbers of Turnstone which all seemed to be making use of the very low tides we have been recently having which has exposed more of the beach than usual.
I then paid a visit to Felbrigg Park to check the lake area again as a gradual thaw was now in progress, and whilst scanning the stream where there were now 3 Gadwall (two drakes and a female) with the Teal and Mallards I noticed the welcome sight of a drake Mandarin half hidden amongst the tufts of vegetation. I altered my position and could now see that there was a pair there but aware of my presence they quickly walked further into the vegetation and out of view. It was nice to see them back as they had been absent from the park since the start of the cold snap before Christmas. Heading back I passed the reedbed and my attention was caught by a familiar call, and a bit of patient waiting was rewarded when a male Reed Bunting flew up and perched in the top of the reeds calling loudly.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

More snow but more birds too

No sign of an end to this cold snap, with even more snow falling overnight. A visit to West Runton on the 11th produced a Dunlin feeding on the beach along with a couple of Sanderlings and Knot, and unexpected birds passing by offshore were a Shag and a Mute Swan, the latter obviously having being frozen out from somewhere.

The lake in Felbrigg park continues to be frozen solid, but a drake Gadwall was a new visitor to the adjacent stream on the 12th.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Offshore Wigeon Movement

An afternoon seawatch revealed that there was a big movement of Wigeon taking place offshore with at least 400 birds seen passing west in a couple of hours, presumably as a result of having been frozen out on the continent during this prolonged spell of freezing temperatures.

Also noted passing by were a drake Goldeneye, Brent Geese, Eider, Teal and Red-throated Divers.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Winter Bonxie

With a moderate northerly blowing, I decided to have a seawatch off West Runton to see what was passing and was rewarded with the first Gannets and Kittiwakes for the year, but the star bird of the day was a Great Skua that was watched slowly heading east. More normally seen in autumn, there are occasional winter records of Bonxies seen in the county, but this was the first one I had seen at this time of year for a good numbers of years and the first one from the patch, so a very notable record.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Great Crested Grebes etc

A look at the sea today produced the first Great Crested Grebes of the year, with a loose flock of 4 offshore which was a fairly unusual sight along this end of the coast. A visit to West Runton produced a single Knot on the beach as well as the usual Turnstones, Redshank and Grey Plover.
A walk around Felbrigg Park produced Siskin, a drake Wigeon asleep on the iced up lake, and a Barn Owl hunting the water meadows flushing up the occasional Snipe as it went.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Hen Harrier and Waxwing double

With more snow and ice covering the ground and more importantly the roads, I decided to spend the day on foot, and made my way down to the clifftops keeping an eye on the sea as I went to see if anything was passing. A small group of Shelduck went past and then I picked up a large bird slowly flying west low over the waves and I quickly realised it was a superb male Hen Harrier, only the second one I have ever seen on the patch, and presumably a continental bird which had been pushed across the North Sea by the weather.

More than pleased with the Harrier, I carried on my walk, and had the hoped-for regular Green Woodpecker fly along the cliffs in front of me, and then heading inland revealed that there was a good number of Fieldfares moving along the wooded disused railway line.

The pager then brought news of a Waxwing in Northrepps, so after adding a few more layers of clothes I opted to walk rather than try to negotiate the frozen back roads, and twenty minutes later I was watching the bird perched up high in a tree behind the pub. It then had a fly-round with the local starling flock before returning to the tree and then dropped down onto some berry bushes below to feed. As no-one else had arrived, I phoned the news out that it was still there and then headed back home where I was greeted with a Great Spotted Woodpecker in the trees opposite.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Jan 1st Day List

Keeping up with tradition, the first day of the year saw me doing a day list round the patch, and despite the recent snow and the continuing freezing weather which had made a lot of birds hard to find over the last few days, a respectable 67 species were recorded during the day.

Robin, Dunnock, Blackbird and Black-headed Gull were seen from the window in the first strains of light as I left the house, and then Magpie, Rook, Jackdaw, Collared Dove, Long-tailed Tit and Oystercatcher were added to the tally enroute to my first destination of the day West Runton.

A quick scan of the beach there revealed the regular adult Mediterranean Gull, and I was surprised to see that there was also a second bird, also in adult winter plumage, in with the roosting gull flock on the beach, which also included Common, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls.

Waders on the beach included Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Redshank and Turnstone, and the fields along the clifftop held Lapwing, Golden Plover and a Snipe, as well as Linnets and Skylarks and a Kestrel overhead. A seawatch produced a few Red-throated Divers, Fulmar, Cormorant, Common Scoter, Eider and a few distant auks.

Felbrigg Park was my next destination for woodland species and Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Jay, Goldcrest, Coal Tit, Redwing, Mistle Thrush and Stock Dove were amongst the new species added to the list, and this was also the site for my second surprise find of the day as in the middle of a fairly hefty snow shower, a flock of c25 Crossbills flew round calling loudly right over my head and alighted briefly in a nearby stand of larches before disappearing back off into the main wood.

A walk down to the lake produced a splendid male Bullfinch and some Goldfinches, and with the lake still frozen solid the birds were making use of the adjacent stream where I found Mallard, Teal, Moorhen, Heron and Egyptian Goose. On the way back to the car, a few smaller (additional?) flocks of Crossbills were seen/heard flying over the tree tops.

Next stop was some weedy fields near Roughton where there was a fairly large wintering finch flock which held a few Brambling, along with the usual Chaffinches and Greenfinches, and whilst watching them a Sparrowhawk made an unsucessful attempt to catch a lunchtime snack.

Heading further up the road my attention was drawn to a lone goose feeding in a field, and a quick emergency stop revealed it was a Pinkfoot, which although are fairly regularly seen passing over when commuting between the Broads and the north-west of the county, this was only the second time I have ever encountered one on the deck, so was a nice surprise find.

A return to West Runton produced another couple of surprises with a Sanderling feeding on the tideline of the now exposed sandy beach, and then a chorus of familiar calls had me quickly looking up as a flock of c55 Snow Buntings flew in off the sea and landed in the stubble field for a brief feed, before heading off west along the clifftops.
A drive-round looking for a few missing species produced Pied Wagtail and Red-legged Partridge, and a Woodcock was inadvertently flushed from a roadside wood whilst spending a penny! Final port of call was a return visit to Felbrigg Park where just before dusk the regular Little Owl was located which rounded off the day well.