Monday, 31 October 2011

A Swift end to the month

Wednesday 26th saw me doing my usual check of the patch and having done the lighthouse area with little reward I decided to check out East Runton which I'd somewhat neglected over the last few days. The usual area was equally birdless so I decided to have a quick check of the clifftop paddock at Wyndham Park, but as it only held the local House Sparrows and a couple of Robins I was about to retrace my steps when I looked up to see a swift sp powering towards me seemingly having just come in-off the sea.

Mindful of the late date and the southerly airflow that we are currently enjoying, the possibility that it could be a Pallid naturally sprung to mind. It quickly passed overhead and then headed south over the coast road before veering east and headed off low over the houses on the west side of Cromer and out of sight. Views were frustratingly brief but its extensive pale throat, overall paleness of plumage and contrast in the flight feathers all pointed to it indeed having the potential to be a Pallid, so I set off to try to relocate it.

A five minute scan over Cromer drew a blank so I quickly went up to the lighthouse to check the cliffs there as in the past they have been particularly attractive to vagrant swifts with both Little and Alpine Swifts there previously. There was no sign but I bumped into Ian P up there and after a while of chatting and scanning he picked it up distantly back over the same area I had originally found it, so annoyingly it had probably not gone very far afterall.

We quickly raced back to Cromer and were able to watch it briefly before it headed off west, with these views further adding to the probability that this was indeed a Pallid Swift. I subsequently saw it briefly from Beeston Regis Church, and by this time other observers also caught up with it here and were confident that it was a Pallid too.

Thursday morning saw me back at Beeston Church and after a short while of scanning I picked up presumably the same bird feeding happily over Sheringham town. With the news quickly broadcast a good number of birders were able to watch it as it continued to linger till c11.30 before it drifted off east whereby I relocated it as it fed over West Runton for a short while.

Subsequently I picked up what may have been a different swift feeding way inland over the ridge at Sheringwood before it headed off further inland and was lost to view, and then an hour later a swift appeared briefly over Beeston Church before quickly heading west along the coast and disappeared off over Sheringham. Now whether this was the same bird doing a big loop, or whether two or even three birds were involved in these sightings I'm not sure.

After a gap of three days, another swift was seen over Cromer this morning, so I set about the task of relocating it and eventually managed to refind it feeding over West Runton where it lingered distantly for c20 mins before being lost to view. Presumably the same bird was then picked up over Sheringham where it remained for the rest of the day in the company of a Swallow or two, and as the day drew to a close a second swift joined them before they were all lost to view as dusk approached. With todays original bird seemingly continually changing appearance depending on the light and angle of viewing it was a real nightmare to clinch and what is evident is that autumn swifts are far from easy id's without prolonged and good close-up views and ideally they're photographed too.

Thankfully others managed to get some fairly decent photos of some of the birds involved this week, but with my point & shoot all I could manage is the one below of the first of the two over Sheringham today.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Late Sand Martin

Highlight of the last few days around the patch was a Sand Martin seen by the lighthouse on Saturday 22nd, which I think is latest date I have ever seen one locally so a good record.

My first Woodcock of the autumn was flushed off the clifftop along the golfcourse also on Saturday, although few other migrants have been noted recently apart from numerous flocks of Starlings coming in-off, and a few Redpolls continue to pass through each day.

Offshore good numbers of Little Gulls have been noted lingering, with good numbers of Kittiwakes and a few Arctic and Common Terns also joining these feeding flocks. A few Shags have started to appear offshore, along with Guillemots and Razorbills, and a single Bonxie was also seen passing by.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Grey Phalaropes

The last few days have been fairly quiet migrant wise, although a few flocks of Siskins have been noted still moving through.

A seawatch yesterday evening produced a Balearic Shearwater going west, along with a few Gannets, Kittiwakes and Auks.

Although I've been checking each day, no further sign has been had of the Willow Emerald Damselfly, although whilst checking today in sunnier and calmer conditions a good number of Common Darters were evident and a Rock Pipit was busily feeding around the edges of the reservoir as it has pretty low water levels in it at present.

A quick glance at the sea off Overstrand showed that there was the odd Diver and Gannet moving so I thought it was worth a bit more of a serious look, so I returned with my scope just in case. After a while of seeing a few more Gannets and auks, including a fairly close Razorbill, I picked up 3 smallish birds flying fast right a fair way out through my bins so I quickly grabbed my scope just in case they were Little Auks as a few had started to be seen now. I quickly got on to them and saw that they were infact waders, but given the distance they were away I was just about to take my eyes off them when they stalled and landed on the sea! They quickly got up and carried on east and although I was naturally thinking Phalaropes, I was also thinking would Sanderlings pitch down momentarily like that?

Anyway after a short distance they again landed on the sea and were obviously surface feeding before again flying and pitching down again to feed, and slowly coming slightly nearer in the process. By now it was evident that they were indeed Grey Phalaropes and the more you watched them feeding and then flying around before landing again, the typical jizz of a phalarope, both in flight and on the sea, was very evident despite them being over half way out.

They remained offshore for about two hours in total, occasionally splitting up, but constantly feeding then flying round a bit in search of food and then pitching back down again when they presumably found some. Fortunately given their prolonged stay a few locals sucessfully connected, before they eventually drifted fast away on the current and then flew purposefully west as daylight was closing in.

So an excellent patch record, especially with three together, and great that they hung around happily feeding out to sea, which is something that I have never seen before.

In addition to the Phalaropes, a single Manx Shearwater was noted heading east and a female Goldeneye, my first of the year, was seen heading west.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Willow Emerald Damselfly

A fairly quiet day on the patch today birdwise failing to find my own Yellow-browed Warbler, and failing to see two others that had been seen locally too. The only highlight being a Tawny Owl found roosting in an ivy covered tree in Warren Wood as it hooted loudly as I was passing.

However the day was more than salvaged when up by the reservoir I flushed an emerald damselfly from the grass in front of me. Fourtunately it only flew a metre or so, so I quickly set about the task of trying to id it as there was a good chance it was one of the rarer species. A check of the pterostigma ruled out Southern (which has a bi-coloured one), so the next thought was that it could be a Willow. It was proving hard to stand far enough back to focus my bins on it but at the same time make out the detail on the thorax so I decided the best course of action was to get a photo and blow up the picture on the monitor to check its appearance.

Luckily it allowed close enough approach for a decent pic and checking the results did to my delight show that it had the prominent side spur on the thorax typical of Willow Emerald Damselfly. I took a few more pics and then quickly made a phone call to get others to the site and stood well back to avoid disturbing it. However frustratingly, more so for them, as they were in sight it flew again but this time was caught up in the blustery wind and was swept away out of view and could not be found again despite searching.

With this to my knowledge being the most northerly record so far in the UK, and only the third site in the county where they have been recorded, this was an excellent record, and a Norfolk tick for me. One can only speculate as to its origins, presumably it had just arrived from the continent during the recent (south)easterlies rather than it being one moving north from Suffolk where they have recently colonised, although I guess it could have been around for a while undetected.

So a great find that I was really pleased with, and also delighted that the photos hastily taken came out pretty well too showing both the side spur on the thorax and the black-bordered orangy-brown pterostigma well to confirm its id.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

East Hills

A dawn visit back to Warham Greens this morning proved fruitless as the Rufous-tailed Robin had moved on overnight, but it was nice to see a few familiar faces from around the country. Whilst checking the coastal bushes a couple of Crossbills flew over and a Corn Bunting, and a ringtail Hen Harrier was noted on the saltmarsh.

With yesterdays initial news that the robin was on East Hills, I was only thinking last night that I should really know how to get out there should there be a major bird found there in the future and as luck would have it, whilst walking back with Eddie and Penny to our cars which were in the Stiffkey campsite car park they said they were going out later when the tide had dropped and said I was welcome to join them.

Now its been said before by others elsewhere, but its definitely worth repeating, do not attempt to go out there alone if you don't know the way, as with various creeks to cross and very soft sand in places the crossing is dangerous if you don't know the correct route to follow, and is still hazardous even when you do, and its easy to get lost especially on the way back, when you could potentially get cut off by the incoming tide.

Anyway the long walk out was brightened up with a couple of Lapland Buntings on the saltmarsh, but the hills themselves were pretty quiet with just a few thrushes and the odd Blackcap and Chiffchaff seen, along with a Short-eared Owl in the dunes, but nevertheless it was mission accomplished in regards to knowing how to get out there, so thanks to my guides, just hope I can still remember come next year!

Friday, 14 October 2011


Despite an initial movement, there were fewer birds on the move today, but still nice numbers of Thrushes and Finches etc were seen going through/coming in-off, with additional species to those noted yesterday including a few Mistle Thrushes, Grey Wagtail and a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

At least one Short-eared Owl was seen to come ashore and a flock of 9 Crossbills flew east. Grounded birds were slightly better than yesterday with single Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Wheatear noted, along with a few more Goldcrests and Robins, plus a frustrating sighting of a bright phyllosc which came in-off but it bush-hopped quickly inland before I could get anything on it. 

With the warm and sunny weather there were still a number of Butterflies and Dragonflies around, with this Migrant Hawker being the most co-operative for photos.

Despite a lot of searching and the high hopes of finding something good, the day appeared to be going out on a whimper, until of course just after 5pm the pager announced that there was a Rufous-tailed Robin on East Hills nr Wells! Even though I knew that even if the tides would allow access there was little chance of actually getting out there before the light went, I still just leapt into my car and made haste westwards. En route a series of confusing messages were broadcast whereby it transpired that the bird wasn't on East Hills at all, or on the saltmarsh, but was actually on Warham Greens - obviously somewhere where I could get to before dark!

So after a bit more confusion/panic after arrival as to exactly where the bird was, managing to run past the crowd in the process, I eventually found the correct spot and after an anxious wait I spotted the bird fly out of the tree it had earlier disappeared into and then watched it as it moved two or three times further from tree to tree along the access track before loosing it from view. So far from brilliant views, but views nonetheless, and a total relief to have connected given all the earlier confusion and considering I thought I had no chance of even getting near it when I left home.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Yellow-browed Warbler and good vis mig

As expected there were good numbers of birds both moving along the coast and coming in off the sea today.

Best bird of a mornings searching round the patch was a Ring Ouzel over the golf course, whilst good numbers of Redwings, Fieldfares, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds were all coming in in flocks of various sizes. Finches were also well represented with Brambling, Siskin, Redpoll, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Linnet all noted in varying numbers, along with a flock of Crossbills which were heard but not seen.

Meadow and Rock Pipits continued to be on the move, and other species noted flying through/coming in-off included Reed Buntings, Grey Herons, Pied Wagtails, Skylarks, Starlings and a single Swallow.

News of a Yellow-browed Warbler at Northrepps was too good to ignore and after a short wait and a bout of 'pishing' it appeared right in front of me and as ever was a real delight to see and being over 2km from the coast it was a notable inland record for the patch too. A finch flock there was noted to contain several Bramblings, and as the day progressed more small flocks were encountered along the coast. 

A bash round Trimingham produced the highlight of a couple of Short-eared Owls in-off, which were part of a major arrival of the species into the county today, the second of which landed briefly on the cliff-face, and then as the day closed in, a check of East Runton produced little extra of note apart from more Thrushes moving inland.

So an excellent day of overhead migration but this sharply contrasted with the complete lack of migrants on the deck, apart from a few Robins and Goldcrests which may have predominantly been local birds anyway, but hopefully with southeasterlies forecast throughout tomorrow, more continued effort of searching will pay dividends.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Hen Harrier and a few more migrants

A walk around the lighthouse area Sunday was rewarded with a ringtail Hen Harrier which appeared to be chasing something (potentially an incoming migrant) over the cliff top before being lost to view.

A large Pipit, probably Richards, was noted heading west amongst the continued passage of Meadow and Rock Pipits and a number of Skylarks were also noted coming in-off.

The continual rain today made searching for migrants a thankless task, but a mixed flock of c50 Thrushes in-off by the lighthouse showed that birds were arriving and hopefully with a dry day and continued easterlies, hopes are high for a decent days birding around the patch tomorrow.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

More action on the sea

With fairly strong northwesterlies blowing, attention over the last couple of days has turned to a bit of seawatching with this morning being the best of the two producing some hoped-for patch year ticks.

Wildfowl were the most abundant species with quite a few Pintail, c10 Red-breasted Mergansers, Shoveler and Scaup all being new for the year, along with a good supporting cast of Tufted Ducks, Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Mallards, Common Scoter, Brent and Pink-Feet.

Single Sooty and Manx Shearwaters were seen heading west along with a few Bonxies, and also c15 Skuas were seen way out with most casually soaring east high along the horizon which I'm happy to leave as skua sp's, although another nearby watchpoint apparently put these down as Poms.

A good passage of Gannets were also heading west, with a few Kittiwakes, Razorbills and Guillemots and Red-throated Divers also on the move. Waders were also passing, most notably half a dozen or so Snipe, along with Dunlin, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover and Oystercatcher.

A number of small passerines, mostly Pipits were noted flying west too, some far out to sea but some overhead too, of which some were Rock Pipits.

This evening the pager alerted me to the fact that a Long-tailed Skua was lingering off Cromer so I quickly hastened my way there, but it unfortunately flew west just as I was arriving so I decided to try to get in front of it and quickly carried on to West Runton. After a while of scanning the sea I picked up presumably the same bird*close inshore and watched as it passed by and in turn scattered a large roosting flock of mainly Black-headed Gulls off the sea before potentially going back down on to the sea presumably to roost as the light was fast going at this point.

The usual Med Gull was in the car park on its favourite post, and a few Rock Pipits were down on the beach feeding on washed up seaweed.

*Having subsequently looked at the photos of the Cromer bird it would appear that this was a different individual.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Early October

With unusually high temperatures at the start of the month, October has seen little change birdwise although a few Divers lingering offshore from the patch have provided a nice distraction from flogging empty bushes.

With the Sandhill Crane continuing to linger at Boyton, and my Dad not having made the trip up to Orkney with me to see the last one, we took the opportunity to go and see it today, and although it was sadly far too distant for any worthwhile photos, it was still nice to see another one anyway, just a shame it chose not to linger in Norfolk instead.