Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Wars 2: Just when you thought it was safe.....

With the removal of one very fat squirrel from the garden I cobbled together a feeder from the few sound bits of the 3 destroyed feeders, filled it with sunflower hearts and hung it back out in the garden. Thiry-six hours later this too was hanging largely empty with fragments of gnawed perches on the ground beneath it. The culprit(s) were evidently still at large but not for much longer or so I thought. A few hours later the trap was sprung again and another squirrel was out of the equation. However today a third (fourth, fifth.......) squirrel was (were) still feasting from one of our metal feeders. The battle is not yet over!
On a bird note, 4 Waxwings flew over this morning as my husband went out to take our daughter to school. We still have plenty of berries in the garden so perhaps one will stop one day.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Weekend round-up and Squirrel wars

The weather put paid to any formal birding this weekend. Pouring with rain yesterday afternoon, blowing a gale this morning. Yesterday morning we were sorting sheep, bringing the New Year lambing ewes off the marsh for feeding and taking the rams out from the rest. The rams separated out from their ewes remarkably easily. They were so busy bickering amongst themselves about who was top dog that they didn't notice that the objects of their bickering had moved on. I dislike birding in gales so despite the sunshine I spent much of today sorting out the vegetable garden after the ravages of summer. However the advantage of living here is that despite the above tasks you can still amass a reasonable bird list without trying. Yesterday, 3 Marsh Harriers, Barn Owl, a distant Peregrine perched on the pylons towards Haddiscoe Island and a Kingfisher flashing past. Today, Buzzard, 2 Barn Owls, Siskin and a flock of 30 Goldfinches. Even 10 minutes outside before work on Friday produced 7 Fieldfare, 1 Redwing and a Bullfinch.
Today I declared war on the local squirrels. Our dog Blossom does her best to keep squirrels off the feeders in the back garden but to the detriment of scaring off all the ground feeding birds. I decided to trial setting up an additional feeding station in another more sheltered part of the garden which Blossom can't get to. I made the mistake of buying plastic feeders. These lasted 2 days. I replaced them and forked out on metal Squirrel Guardian cages but these only prolonged the life of the feeders by 5 days. Fed up with squirrels chomping through feeders and large quantities of expensive bird food, there was nothing for it but to get out the squirrel traps. Within 4 hours there was one less (very fat) squirrel in the garden.
Meanwhile here's a photo of the first Jay to learn how to feed from a feeder (taken through double glazing, hence worse even than the usual).

Thursday, 22 November 2012

State of the marshes birds

With the recent publication of the State of the UK's Birds 2012 showing the mixed fortunes of the UKs bird population I thought I would take a look at how the birds across the marshes here have been faring in the 16 years we have been living here. There have been some major changes in the management of the marshes in those years. Our neighbour converted a large area of arable land back to grazing marsh under the Environmentally Sensitive Area arable reversion scheme after his combine harvester became almost irretrievably stuck in the mud 2 years running. As part of this he put in a large scrape handily viewable from our house and wide reed berms along some of his dykes. For a couple of years we had breeding avocets and such things as spoonbill, glaucous gull, garganey and little ringed plover dropped in. The scrape is sadly overgrown now through lack of management but we'll have our own soon if only the marshes will dry out enough to get the heavy machinery on to dig it. I digress....
Starting with the losers, there are few surprises here. Lapwings have declined markedly despite the agri-enviroment schemes which should have helped them. There used to be numerous pairs across the marshes but now just 2 or 3 remain and there is no sign they breed successfully. I remember seeing a pair with chicks on a pasture we now own but these had gone before we bought it. Turtle Doves have just about vanished too. Their gentle song used to be a  familiar backdrop to s sunny summers day. We used to have them feeding at our bird feeder but I have only 2 records for the whole of last summer. Spotted Flycatchers have gone completely as have Grasshopper Warbler although the habitat for them appears unchanged if not better. Cuckoo too seems to be slipping away. We still get them, indeed one had the opportunity to become a star in the BTOs satellite tagging project last year but flew over the net whilst it was being erected and didn't respond to the tape to lure it back. This year we heard them very infrequently. Greenfinches used to flock to the birdfeeders but went down to 1s and 2s in the last few years. The bright spot here is that we recently had a count of 6 in the garden so they could be making their way back. We have never had breeding House Sparrows but we did used to have regular records of them in the garden. Now Tree Sparrow is commoner! The same applies to Yellowhammers.
Fortunately it's not all bad news and there are even a few birds that seem to be bucking the national trend. Step forward Marsh Tit and Treecreeper. With first records in 2001 and 2002 respectively these two have continued to increase. It's rare to walk past the alder wood without hearing either. We also seem to have seen more Yellow Wagtails in the last couple of years and Little Owls keep popping up at many  more different sites in the area. The prize for most increased noticeable bird must go to Common Buzzard. These were a real rarity when we moved here but we see them just about daily with one distinctly pale bird in particular spending much of its time on the marshes. Marsh Harrier and Hobby have also increased with 2 pairs of the former breeding within sight  of the house, this year fledging 6 young. Barn Owls too continue to do well, my husband, incidentally, having the honour(?) of being shat on by one he accidentally disturbed from a hollow tree this afternoon. Jay and Reed Bunting have also done well, and Swallows have also increased from 0 breeding pairs to 3, seemingly triggered by our building of a large barn-like car port. New arrivals, although hardly surprising,  have been Little Egret (2005) and Cetti's Warbler (2006) and lastly,  mentioned in a previous post, has been Pink-footed Goose, probably my favourite of all the above.
This seems an appropriate post to mention the BTOs new member campaign. The BTO doesn't have bird reserves but its work provides much of the hard data on which conservation policy is based. You only need to look at page 37 of the State of the UK's Birds report to see how much the BTO is the lead body in all the surveys that contributed to it. The BTO is currently offering membership for just £1 until 1st June 2013 so click on this link and give them your support. If you put my name in the referring member box I get entered in a prize draw to win a 2 day birding holiday in Norfolk, not really a big deal as I live here but I wouldn't mind the tour of the BTO which goes with it. Thanks everyone.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

A bit of geography.

From time to time messages appear on the pager services referring to birds on Chedgrave marshes, Haddiscoe Island and Haddiscoe marshes. Simple you think. Go to Haddiscoe for the last two and the village of Chedgrave near Loddon for the first. Wrong I'm afraid. The first two are the same place (and are not next to Haddiscoe), the last one isn't (and is). Let me explain. Haddiscoe marshes are next to Haddiscoe and lie either side of the A143 Beccles to Yarmouth road. Haddiscoe Island is a vast triangular grazing marsh bordered by the Rivers Yare and Waveney, and the New Cut, with St Olaves, Reedham and Berney at the corners. It is made up of Chedgrave marshes (nowhere near Chedgrave) and Langley marshes (nowhere near Langley) and also has an old windmill called Toft Monks windmill (nowhere near Toft Monks). There are also some marshes called Langley marshes near Langley itself. You can view most of Haddiscoe marshes and a small part of Haddiscoe Island from the Haddiscoe New Cut bridge which is next door to St Olaves and easily reached by train stopping at Haddiscoe station (which is at St Olaves too). Although when you think you're looking at Haddiscoe marshes you are probably looking at Thorpe marshes (which are at least next to Thorpe-next-Haddiscoe), but which musn't be confused with Thorpe marshes in Norwich.
There we are, simple isn't it! :)

Pink and (T)white

After last week's reference to late autumn a flavour of winter arrived on the marshes on Saturday. It was a typical dull, damp, dismal November day. After work in the morning I went upstairs to change and had a quick scan across the marshes. (We have a scope permanently set up in the bedroom.) Settling on a passing marsh harrier I noticed numerous dark shapes grazing the marshes behind it. The Pink-feet were back. Our first record of Pink-feet here was a recent as 2007 but since then several thousand have spent at least a few days every winter grazing Haddiscoe marshes, usually in December/January time. There's something very evocative in the sight and sound of large flocks of wild geese so I've always felt very privileged to have these birds so close to the house. There were about 500 birds this time and with a detailed scan I picked up a single adult White-front but there was no sign of the Ross's Goose that had been on the nearby Haddiscoe Island the previous day.
We had friends over on Saturday evening so it was a rather late start on Sunday morning despite the glorious sunshine. A Brambling wheezed over as I let the chickens out in the morning and a small flock of siskins flew from one alder carr to another. Three Marsh Harriers and a Barn Owl cruised by while I was checking the sheep.
One of our friends is relatively new to birding so to fill one of the gaps in her list we headed to Dingle Marshes. After a refreshing walk along the shingle from Dunwich we had excellent views of the wintering flock of Twite feeding on the fluffy Sea Asters, along with 5 Spotted Redshanks on the shore pools. With news of a large flock of Waxwings at Minsmere in the North Bushes we moved rapidly on. Our friend had previously only seen Waxwing in flight. On seeing the birds at Minsmere she immediately understood my comment "You haven't seen Waxwing until you've seen them perched". They behaved beautifully, basking in the late afternoon sun, eating hawthorn berries and flycatching, all to a backdrop of their lovely trilling calls. With fading light and photos taken we retired for tea and cake in the visitor centre followed by an escorted visit to the Cave Spider guarding her egg cocoon in one of the nearby sheds. She's a fantastic looking beast closely resembling a Black Widow and well worth a look even if you're not into creepy-crawlies. Thanks to the Minsmere staff for taking the time to show her to us.
We finished the day with a nostalgic dusk visit to Westwood Lodge, a former gathering site for Suffolk birders in years gone by. A massive flock of starlings rushed east presumably to roost in the Walberswick reed beds and 3 Marsh Harriers also came in to roost. The star bird was a Little Owl who emerged from his daytime roost in a dead tree stump and sat in full view the entire time we were there. All in all, a fun day in good company.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Another new bird for the marsh

It was my half day this afternoon so a chance for a walk around the marsh to check the sheep in beautiful late autumn sun. A Green Woodpecker got things off to a good start then part way round I was stopped dead in my tracks by a single distant but distinctive 'ping'. However there was silence as I scanned the reeds on the far side of the neighbouring marsh from where the sound had come, apart from a Reed Bunting calling as it flew past. Half thinking I must have been hearing things I walked on only to be stopped again, this time by 2 pings. It was decision time. Do I stay on our marsh and attempt to get a distant view of a characteristic shape in the reeds to get them on our marsh seen-from list or do I strike out across the neighbours land to try and see and identify these birds properly? Ornithological interest won out over list mania and I headed out across next-doors very wet marsh. Clambering from sedge clump to sedge clump I worked my way along the reed bund and as a Marsh Harrier quartered low over the reed tops was rewarded with a sudden barrage of pinging confirming I had heard correctly. A twitching reed focused my attention on one spot but it took a change from pishing to squeaking to bring a little party of 6-7 dapper Bearded Tits climbing up into the tops of the reeds where they had been feeding in the reed litter only 10 feet from where I was standing. These were a long awaited first for the marshes even if not our own.
With plans (currently on hold due to the wet autumn) to put in a reed bund (and scrape) on our own marshes hopefully they soon will be.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

East meets West Part 2

It was Saturday and husband and children arrived this morning. They had hardly settled in when news of a Booted Warbler had us on the first boat to St Agnes. The bird showed beautifully for the boatload of birders in a small tree with chiffchaffs, a Willow Warbler and a Reed Warbler before disappearing for several hours.

We walked on to the Parsonage and saw a Yellow-browed Warbler and Pied Fly before moving on to Big Pool to see a very showy Richards Pipit. Ambling around Wingletang we came across this bizarre scene.

No they weren't looking for a lost contact lens. This tiny fern Least Adder's-tongue was the object of their search.

Scilly is the only site in the British Isles where this fern occurs.
The next couple of days were rather quiet rarity wise apart from a very confiding Spotted Crake in Lower Moors. However the number of birds was starting to increase with the first winter thrushes starting to trickle in from the massive falls on the East coast.
The 23rd was a classic Scilly day. We took the first boat to Tresco and had good though distant views of the juvenile Penduline Tit on the Great Pool. More thrushes were starting to arrive. We nipped across the channel to Bryher and had excellent views of the Buff-bellied Pipt on Rushy Bay feeding amongst the seaweed with Rock and Meadow Pipits.

An Olive-backed Pipit was reported on the radio near Veronica Farm and after a short hunt we had brief views of this bird before it flitted over a hedge into another field. Whilst trying to refind this bird another birder found a Little Bunting in the same small area and we found ourselves running backwards and forwards from one small field to another until we eventually managed to connect with the Little Bunting.
The next day we were back on St Agnes and saw at least 4 Yellow-browed Warblers, a showy RBF and caught up with the Rosy Starling at Coastguards Cafe.
The 25th was a day full of birds. There had been a major arrival of thrushes and there seemed to be birds everywhere. It was a great days birding even if no BB rarity turned up. However late afternoon saw us all heading hastily to Porthloo where a major Scilly rarity, a Great White Egret, had been found.

This was the final excitement of an excellent 2 weeks birding. Bring on 2013!

Sheep work brings rewards

Busy day today. Work in the morning then an afternoon risking life and limb doing sheepy things. Well maybe a severe bruising and a soaking. The rams needed their raddle colour changing and I had to take two 6ft feed troughs to a group of pregnant ewes on the marsh. Raddle is pigmented paste applied to the chest of a ram so he marks each ewe he mates. It gives you an idea of when a ewe is going to lamb. Applying it involves grovelling in front of 90+kg of testosterone-fuelled muscle bound body with a very hard head on the front. The quickest way of getting the troughs to the ewes was to carry them over a ligger across a water-filled dyke, a ligger being the colloquial word for whatever piece of timber was found long enough to span the dyke, in this case an 8 inch wide slippy scaffolding board. In the late spring you can enjoy Water Soldiers, Norfolk Hawkers and Hairy Dragonflies from this plank, now it crosses cold dank water.
The first two rams were easy even though one was Sam, our most untrustworthy ram who has taken out several grown men in his time. The troughs were delivered without incident. Things went downhill when I was unexpectedly joined by Blossom our unruly Jack Russell who had somehow escaped the confines of our garden and raced after me across the marsh. A handy sheep halter soon had her under control but with a dog in tow I couldn't get near the third ram. It was probably also the presence of Blossom that turned the normally docile Wizard in to a raging monster. After successfully applying his raddle paste I suddenly found myself flattened against a gate before he turned his attention to pummelling the dog in to the mud. We beat a hasty retreat.
At least my reward was a fine male Hen Harrier quartering the marshes and also a fly over Yellowhammer, the first for the marsh in about 10 years. Siskins and a Bullfinch were also heard and a small flock of wintering Teal flushed from the dykes surrounding the alder wood. Teal seem to much prefer these overshadowed dykes to the open dykes of the marsh. Maybe they feel safer from prowling Marsh Harriers?

Friday, 9 November 2012

New bird for the house list

A quick scan of the marshes before work produced 2 Marsh Harriers and a Common Buzzard for me but it was my husband who scored yet again when he flushed a Long-eared Owl from an ivy-covered tree at the end of the garden late morning. Sadly the bird disappeared in to a neighbours wood and hasn't been seen again. This was a first for the house list and completes the set of common British owls. Fingers crossed this beautiful bird returns to its roost site overnight but I won't be holding my breath

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Waxwing over

Quiet on the marsh for me so far this week but that's hardly surprising now that its dark when I get home from work. The highlight was a flyover Waxwing seen by my husband Chris on Tuesday as he escorted a DEFRA inspector around the sheep after 2 hours of checking all my paperwork was in order. It was reassuring to hear that this DEFRA employee  knew not only what a Waxwing was but also managed to pick out the flying bird when Chris called it.
 We passed the sheep inspection by the way.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Back in the East

Saturday 3rd November was my first free day after coming back from Scilly. A walk around the marsh to check the sheep produced little of note birdwise, though my attention was mainly with the sheep. The rams wearing bright red raddle paste have gone in with the ewes so I was checking which ewes were now displaying painted bottoms. I also had to shift 90kg of recalcitrant ram back to his group of girls, not an easy task after he taken more of a liking to a neighbouring group and swum the dyke.
It was only when I was changing inside when I spotted a Sparrowhawk flying across the marsh pursued in familiar fashion by a familiar shape - a late swallow.
Moving the ram had made me let in setting off for the North coast. My plan had been to go to Titchwell to look for seaduck and grebes on the sea and then move on to Cley but on reaching Titchwell it was pouring with rain. The prospect of seawatching on the exposed beach rapidly lost its appeal so I moved straight on to Cley and with the news that Bryan Bland was signing copies of his new book "The Profit of Birding"at 1pm went straight to the Visitor Centre for a cup of tea and cake. I was first in line for a book and had a long chat with Bryan before heading out on to the reserve. The White-rumped Sandpiper was elusive and distant but eventually showed.
I've only read 3 chapters of the book so far but can heartily recommend it.

Today I had the chance to shoot out to see the Waxwings in Great Yarmouth. The pager only mentioned 5 but when I got to Pasteur Road there was a flock of 26 sitting in trees in the grounds of the Perenco factory by the main road in to Yarmouth. It was hardly the most peaceful of birding sites with a continual stream of traffic thundering by just feet away but Waxwings are always worth seeing wherever they are.

First post: East meets West Part I

After 18 months of thinking about it I have started a blog at last, but instead of the birds and wildlife of my marshes you're going to get a post about my 2 week trip to the Isles of Scilly 475miles away. Hence the meanderings in the blog title.
My arrival on Scilly was a little delayed by being diverted to Newquay airport, the grass runway at St Just being pronounced waterlogged after being inspected by someone "wearing a snorkel" (the words of the airport staff). I was still in time to catch the 2pm boat to Bryher and tucked up under the roof of the wheel house I avoided the hailstorm that soaked everyone else on the boat. The Solitary Sandpiper was showing beautifully on its manure heap and finding plenty of worms which it would pick out of the muck and carefully wash in the pools of foetid water around the pile before eating them. Here's my first rubbish photo, the first of many.
The Blackpoll warbler wasn't showing but 2 Coal tits were Scilly ticks.
I spent the next day clearing up on St Marys seeing the Rosy Starling and the American Golden Plover at Porth Hellick and a Wryneck. Here's another photo. There is a rare bird in it, honest.

Back to Bryher and after a long wait the Blackpoll Warbler reappeared and showed fantastically in beautiful sunshine for a pleasantly small crowd

Next day was the Hume's (or not Hume's) Yellow-browed Warbler in the Dump Clump. It was certainly a very bright bird for a Hume's but the call wasn't a classic Yellow-browed either. The jury is still out on this one. At least there was no argument about a Red-breasted Flycatcher at Old Town Church. Later on I found myself at Porthloo with a small group of other birders enjoying the late afternoon sun checking out the gulls on the in-coming tide. Will Wagstaff got us all on to 3 ducks that had just landed distantly out in the bay. It was one of those moments where everyone was thinking the same thing, odd head shape for tufties, but no one was brave enough to put their hand up until Will announced "they're all Ring-necked Ducks aren't they!" and we could all collectively agree. The 3 ducks came in much closer after a brief flight enabling us to see more than just silhouettes before flying off to Porth Hellick where they set up home for several days. This is one of my better photos, I'm quite proud of this one
Strong winds disrupted the following days birding but the spectacular seas combined with a high tide compensated. A small group of birders gathered to watch the waves battering the harbour wall as the staff of the Pilot's Gig tried to retrieve their (thankfully) empty beer kegs.

With the storm abated the next day gave me another Scilly first when I made the crossing on foot from Bryher to Tresco. Our pre-crossing nerves were steadied by the sight of a tractor being driven across with the water barely deeper than the width of its tyres.Sadly there was no mega-rarity as a reward for getting my feet wet but this ridiculously tame Golden Pheasant provided entertainment. It loved Walkers Ready Salted crisps. Maybe it liked the colour of the packet?
 Week 2 to follow.....