Monday, 30 December 2013

Dorset Dash - The Portland Brunnich's Guillemot

This "mega" year has been somewhat frustrating for me. The anticipation of the sound of a mega-alerting pager would change to despondency when the bird I needed was on a far-flung expensive or impossible to reach in a weekend island or in Ireland ( I don't go there), and the mainland megas were all birds I've seen, apart from the Semi-p Plover (bless its little soul). I had written off the rest of the year and was hoping 2014 would turn out to be better. When the pager mega-alerted on Boxing Day I picked it up with trepidation wondering what final disappointment 2013 had for me. The words Brunnich's and Portland caught my eye, a bird I needed on the mainland at last! I ran a quick calculation through my brain, 5 hour plus drive, just over 5 hours of daylight and 2 excited daughters expecting me to take them to see The Hobbit in Norwich at 7pm. The numbers didn't add up.  I  also had to work the next 2 days, my husbands relations were about to arrive from Canada for a late Christmas and with Brunnich's Guillemots not known for hanging around this looked like yet another one I would have to let go.
Arriving at work on Friday morning my pager informed me that the Brunnich's was still present. I began to wonder whether it would hang around as I was free(ish) on Sunday. Amazingly it was still there on Saturday and my phone was going mad with texts and Tweets from friends who had seen the bird whilst I was stuck being very busy at work. My late Christmas dinner that afternoon had to be a dry affair for me as I resolved to get up at 4.30am and head west myself the next morning.
I was on my way by 5am with my Christmas present Sat-nav guiding me on almost deserted frosty roads. From 7.45 as the daylight strengthened, I started to take anxious glances at my pager. The Brunnich's had been on by 8.30 on Friday and Saturday but there had been no messages as that time came and went. My heart sank when I caught the word "No" on the first Brunnich's message of the day, thinking this was a "no sign" message and was a little relieved when I realised it was the lesser but still ominous"no news" but it was still an anxious few minutes before the message came through that it was still there and showing well.
I arrived at my destination in bright sunshine and found birders walking back from the bird down a hill to my right just south of the castle. I was told to "walk up the hill, turn left and you'll see the birders". I followed the instructions and soon came across  a line of khaki clad birders leaning over a castellated wall like defenders at a siege. I joined their ranks and was just putting my scope down when the Brunnich's Guillemot popped up almost in front of me. I hardly had time to lift my bins before it had dived again but it was soon back up and I had my first proper view. It spent the next hour doing circuits in front of the Aqua Hotel almost constantly diving and spending little time on the surface. However at times it came very close in and once surfaced immediately below me giving me a spectacular view. When it dived I could see it swimming away in the clear water.
Eventually it moved off into the marina and started doing loops around the pontoon in front of an admiring crowd. It was a beautiful, almost windless day with a little bit of warmth in the winter sunshine, a huge contrast to the conditions on my previous twitch, and it was a delight to be able to watch this extreme rarity.

There were other birds of note too. The Black Guillemot was feeding in just one small area near a pink buoy close to the breakwater and a Great Northern Diver in the marina was one of at least 3 in the harbour. I also saw a Red-necked Grebe, 2 Black-throated Divers, good numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers, dapper drakes with their punky females, and a steady stream of other auks flying in and out of Portland Harbour.
It was time to move on and stopping at Radipole Lake I had a look at the Hooded Merganser which was ridiculously tame. I counted at least 23 Med Gulls amongst the roosting gulls in front of the visitor centre and Cetti's Warblers were in good voice.

After a reviving piece of cake and a cup of coffee at the RSPB visitor centre I went up the road to see the Glossy Ibis which was feeding in the rather unusual location of a wet playing field next to a children's play area and also giving excellent views. It was a superb day and 2013 went out with a bang after all!

Happy New Year to all my readers!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Grey Phalarope at Walberswick

Mid-December and there is just too little daylight to do everything I want to do. Work, of course, takes up most of the light during the week and I had to work yesterday too so I had to wait until today to travel the relatively short distance to Walberswick to look for the Grey Phalarope. I arrived at the harbour car-park in bright sunshine. A line of birders was stood on the bank by the car-park so I was hopeful the phalarope was showing, however the news was negative. Yesterday it had been showing opposite the Southwold Harbourside Inn so I was expecting to have to walk along the river wall but the Environment Agency were at work rebuilding the bank where it had collapsed during the floods and the footpath was closed.
I suggested that it was worth walking down the path from the Common that led to the bailey bridge across the river but with seemingly little enthusiasm from the other birders I headed off to Palmers Lane on my own. The pull off before the No Vehicle Access sign where I parked my car was empty but nearing the river wall a few other birders had obviously had the same idea and were converging on a man wearing a fluorescent jacket and Environment Agency logo who was guarding the fence closing the river wall footpath at its western end. Fortunately he was happy to allow us to walk along the undamaged part of the footpath up to the barrier marking the newly repaired but as yet unwalkable section with him escorting us. It turned out that early in the morning the Phalarope had been up by the common path but had flow eastwards towards one of the middle pools that now covered what had previously been grazing marshes. The weather had suddenly become very gloomy and for a while there was no sign whatsoever of the phalarope. Suddenly I spotted the bird through the reeds feeding in the channel near the river wall away to our left. It picked its way to and fro across the channel coming gradually closer but seeming to stop at a band of reed debris where it would turn and head away from us again. I've said it before but I'll say it again that phalaropes are my favourite group of waders. Although a little more robust than Red-necked this was still a dainty bird especially when it started preening itself delicately flicking its bill though its feathers.
It was too distant and too dull for me to take any photos but there are some excellent photos on the Suffolk BINS website.
Many thanks to the Environment Agency guy for being so helpful. Talking to him it seems the Environment Agency are working flat out from 6am right in the night to 1am every day to try and repair the broken sea-defences before the next big high tides on 18-19th February. The digger at Walberswick is one of the few floating diggers in the country, there being no room on the seawall for a conventional tracked digger, so its going to be kept busy.

Friday, 13 December 2013

First tagged Marsh Harrier sighting (in Belgium)!

There was huge excitement this morning when I received an e-mail telling me that one of the Marsh Harrier chicks (DX) that was tagged on the marshes here in June (see my blog on June 30th) had been photographed in Belgium on the 11th December.
Here she is on June 30th:

And click here to see how she looks now.
DX was one of 5 chicks from one nest in a reed-margin along a dyke. Her siblings DT, DV, D2 and D3 all fledged successfully. Another nest only 30 yards from DX's also held 5 chicks but only 2 of these, DR and DS, could be caught. DX is the first of the 7 harriers to be reported since the birds left the nest area.
If you see a green-winged tagged Marsh Harrier the easiest way to read the tag is to photograph the bird and then please report the sighting to the Hawk and Owl Trust here. I'd love to know where the rest of "my" harriers have got to!

15/12/13 Stop press: DX is officially the first British ringed Marsh Harrier to turn up in Belgium

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

No birding but lots of birds

Last weekend saw my now annual pilgrimage to Swanwick in north-east Derbyshire for the BTO Conference. Arriving somewhat late due to hideously slow traffic from east Norfolk I unfortunately missed the Friday evening talk on Honey Buzzards but headed straight for the bar to catch up with old friends. After a good nights sleep I made it to breakfast on time (yes, honest) and was ready for the days talks.
This year the theme was 'The life of birds - a struggle for survival' with the emphasis on the ringing side of the BTOs work but the talks, despite featuring numerous graphs and statistics, were still entertaining and fascinating.
We learnt that Buzzards are doing very well in Ireland despite the paucity of mammal species there. It was a surprise to learn that Ireland had no voles until some were discovered in the 1960s in County Kerry probably as a result of a release in the 1920s, and there is also only one species of shrew, the Pygmy. Going further afield to another island, this time Mauritius, we were told of the success of the fight to save the Pink Pigeon but also of the unexpected problems that the necessary artificial feeding of the birds produces. The birds are living much longer than usual and the old but infertile females hang on to the best territories making life difficult for the younger birds!
The Witherby Lecture entitled 'Through birds' eyes' was delivered by Professor Graham Martin, who explained why to him birds are 'bills guided by an eye'. Remarkably, Tawny Owl night vision isn't much better than ours and humans are actually better at localising sound too. I've yet to try out my mouse catching in the dark skills though. Cormorants can't see too well under water either and hunt by grabbing at anything that moves and then bringing their catch to the surface to have a look at it before deciding whether to swallow it. Shovelers, who are largely filter feeders and don't have to look at what they're eating have their eyes placed in a much better position to look for predators than ducks like Wigeon that do need to see what they're grazing. We also learnt why wind turbines and power lines are such a problem for birds such as vultures. The ridges over their eyes, which stop them being dazzled by the sun, prevent them from seeing forwards when they're looking down in search of carrion. This isn't a problem in the unobstructed environment in which they evolved but can be disastrous when humans erect something as big as a wind turbine in their flight path.
After lunch we had talks on Long-tailed Tit survival (surprisingly the weather in May is an important factor in adult survival), Sand Martins (demonstrating the link between their survival and the Sahel rains), an overview of the Icelandic ringing scheme (Snow Buntings top the list for passerines rung) and a hilarious account of Reed Warbler ringing at a Norfolk gravel workings by Dave Leech (an inflatable baby bath makes the ideal container to hold all your ringing gear if you're wearing a wet suit!).
The Annual Dinner followed the afternoon sessions and the AGM (which I didn't attend) and then it was back to the bar. The bar at Swanwick closes at 10.30 but BTO members know how to party! As I stood on the stairs phoning home there was a steady procession of delegates heading for their rooms returning a few minutes later clutching bottles of whisky, wine and crates of beer. I have to admit to missing breakfast the following morning but only to get more sleep after a very late night.
Sunday morning sessions started with an introduction to social media for the less enlightened members of the audience, followed by a talk on tracking seabirds using GPS locators (more modern technology). Auks were discovered to travel from their breeding colonies to feeding grounds much further afield than previously thought with birds from Fair Isle travelling over 340km. The morning and essentially the weekend, bar the raffle draw, ended with a panel discussion on the future of the BTO. I'll refer you to Mark Avery's excellent blog, one of the panellists, for his eloquent (as always) view on this. So another excellent weekend and hopefully I'll be back next year.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Haddiscoe Floods 2013

Living in a house built on the edge of what was once an estuary 1500 years ago has always left us feeling just a little vulnerable to flooding. Reassuringly the house didn't flood in 1953 during the great East coast floods so we've always thought it unlikely although the waters came right up to the bottom of the garden, flooding the marshes. However yesterdays severe flood warnings right along the Norfolk and Suffolk coast had me following the unfurling events nervously.
The day began with a stunning "shepherds warning" sunrise whilst I was out feeding the sheep.

Stuck indoors at work all day I missed the worst of the stormy winds but it was still blowing hard as I arrived home at dusk. Our land was under a Flood Warning so I thought it prudent to move the sheep on the marsh closer up to the house and nearer to (slightly) higher ground in case the worse should happen. Moving sheep in the dark in a howling wind isn't easy and one group headed off in the opposite direction towards our wettest marsh with a daughter in hot pursuit, stumbling in watery pools. Fortunately the sheep were quickly retrieved and driven to relative safety.
The tide in the river at St Olaves is two and half hours behind the coast and so with news coming through of over-topping of sea walls in Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth, it wasn't until 11.30pm that I drove across the A143 Haddiscoe Dam to check the river at the New Cut. It was a very dark night with the newest of moons just a sliver on the horizon so it was difficult to see much but a loud rushing noise could be heard and my torch beam fell upon a mass of water gushing over the river wall just beyond the bridge, luckily on to the opposite side to the wide expanse of marsh where my marshes lie. I noticed a trickle of water at my feet and decided it would be prudent to leave. Fortunately over night we suffered no flooding.
This morning my route to work was flooded Pic here. However it was passable with care especially by lorries, buses and 4x4s (myself included) but I saw at least 2 cars grind to a halt in the water to the embarrassment of their drivers who had ignored the road closed signs. By lunchtime the tide had risen again and in the daylight it was possible to see the mass of water pouring once more over the Cut and the extent of the flooding.

The sign marks the road out to Haddiscoe Island, the water to the right is usually grazing marsh. We were lucky, this is fortunately the extent of the flooding here. The North Norfolk coast looks devastated and the reserves along the Yare valley sound like they may have suffered too with salt water incursion in to the fen habitats.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Lynford Arboretum

December dawned bright and windless today, perfect winter birding weather. However my daughters had an event to attend in Norwich which required a drop off at Easton at 9.45am and a pick up at 1pm. That 3 1/2 hour window put the coast out of the question but Lynford Arboretum seemed to fit the bill. I had seen 3 Two-barred Crossbills here some weeks ago so it was Hawfinch that I was most interested in, not the much debated winged-barred Crossbill that is exercising minds and blogs on the internet. The excellent new BTO Bird Atlas shows a dramatic decline in Hawfinches especially in East Anglia so recent reports of up to 12 at Lynford would be a spectacular sight. Checking my birding records going back to the 80's the biggest flock I've ever seen was 7 at Epping Forest, followed by a 5 at East Wretham and the rest just ones and twos.
I arrived at Lynford to the calls of a few Common Crossbills that were coming down to drink at the muddy pools in the walled garden. The wing-barred Crossbill had been seen half an hour earlier but not since so I walked straight along the path across the bridge to the horse-paddocks, the favoured haunt of the Lynford Hawfinches. There was a small group of birders here waiting patiently for there had been no sign of any Hawfinch so far that morning. A Kestrel holding vigil on the electricity wires that stretched across the field was being blamed for their absence. A pager message alerted us to a report of 9 Hawfinch by the bridge barely 150 yards away from us, although there was no visible birder presence, and neither had there been any verbal communication from any one who might have been standing there. Myself, and John and Judy Geeson , ambled towards the bridge to get a better view of the trees that lined the stream but of birds or birders there was no sign. Some Common Crossbills flew in to the top of a poplar and posed briefly before heading back to their more usual coniferous habitat. Suddenly I picked up a chunky finch in bounding flight with broad white wing bars heading towards the large trees in the middle of the paddock, a Hawfinch! The bird, a pristine male, perched in the very top of one of the trees, almost shining in the winter sunshine. Returning to the group of birders, there were 2 more birds in the second tree although a little more obscured. A male Bullfinch glowed brilliant red in the same tree, easily visible to the naked eye so intense was the colour of his breast. The Hawfinches moved on and it was time for me to leave too.
 I was outside much of yesterday sorting out soggy sheep in persistent drizzle but the home patch was quiet. After 5 weeks it was time to take the rams out from the ewes. For two rams this involved some deft footwork avoiding their charge, grabbing them around the chin as they came to a halt and quickly applying a halter to lead them home. The third ram is a much more docile beast but was ironically harder to catch as he stuck with his ewes that constantly moved away from us as we approached. Amazingly no ewe had acquired a blue rump from the change in raddle colour of 17 days ago which indicates they all fell pregnant on the first pass and means a lambing period of just 3 weeks of disturbed nights for us next March/April instead of the usual 5. It was also the fateful time to sort out which lambs we're keeping on and which are ready for the freezer.
After doing the sheep I put out our two trail cameras that have been languishing in the house for the last few months. One went out on a post by the scrape, another set to video out by a mink raft on a dyke where we've previously captured photos of otter and water vole. Most of the time I get photos of a Mallard swimming one way and then swimming back but you never know what could be out there.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Glaucous Gull, Lowestoft

November is my least favourite month. It always seems to be relentlessly grey and damp and, with the nights continuing to draw in, no promise of spring around the corner. The birds too can often be disappointing. The excitement of autumn migration has gone and many of our wintering birds have yet to arrive in any numbers. Today at least dawned bright, sunny and windless.
After taking sheep to Norwich Livestock Market and returning home with a bag of Suffolk walnuts from one of the men helping in the wash out area(!), I took a stroll around the marsh. There was nothing special, but it was pleasant enough. Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were passing overhead, 2 Marsh Harriers were calling to one another over next doors marsh and our wintering flock of about 40 Teal have returned to the alder wood. The scrape is just about to overflow its edges thanks to the previous weeks rain but the only birds making use of it this morning when I passed were 3 Common Gulls. Our other marshes are getting increasingly wet too with standing water on several.
Whilst sorting out the hay for my January lambing ewes, the distinctive wink-wink call alerted us to a flock of about 60 Pink-footed Geese heading south down the valley.
After lunch I headed to Lowestoft and found a small disconsolate group of birders by the side of the Hamilton Dock. The Glaucous Gull had not been seen since 8.30am when it had apparently been flushed by a Common Seal! The Hamilton Dock must be the most unattractive birding site in Suffolk with a security gate guarding a high concrete sea wall to your left, a noisy engineering yard behind you, Lowestoft town centre to your right featuring a multi-storey car park and the fish dock, currently in the process of being demolished ahead of you. It is always cold whatever the weather with the classic "lazy" North Sea wind cutting right through you. Despite these down sides, the dock has an excellent reputation for attracting rare gulls especially in its heyday when Lowestoft still had a fishing fleet, the most famous being the 1977 Franklin's Gull and the 2006 Ross's Gull.
After 10 minutes I moved off to Ness Point where the Purple Sandpipers were showing very well, pushed up to the railings at the point by the rising tide.

I had a look at the waste skips at the back of Birds Eye factory which were attracting some gulls but drew a blank. I headed back to the dock just in case and found Ricky Fairhead scanning the harbour. Within 5 minutes Ricky picked up the Glaucous Gull coming in from the direction of the town centre but it promptly dropped in out of view amongst the boats to our right. I had come armed with the last crust from my kitchen so within seconds we had it on the water and on the tiny tyre-strewn beach below us giving us tremendous views and an excellent photo opportunity.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Shorelarks and Parrots

I've had friends over this weekend who had certain avian and cetacean targets in their sights so I took on the duty of local guide, heading first to the metropolis of Great Yarmouth hoping to see the Shorelarks there. Great Yarmouth is not exactly my favourite place in Norfolk. Tatty and faded with garish and noisy amusement arcades along the "Golden Mile" and suffering from high levels of deprivation it hardly appeals. Having talked it down (and before the locals complain), the Time and Tide Museum is excellent and well worth a visit and hidden amongst rows of modern terraces and industrial units is a surprisingly well preserved medieval protective wall complete with towers.
The Shorelarks were reported to be on the beach north of the Britannia Pier so we parked near the Imperial Hotel, crossed the North Denes, avoiding inevitable dog mess and detritus of empty beer bottles and rubbish, and  joined sea-anglers, dog-walkers, metal detectorists and the odd meandering drunk on the shore. A family of birders were watching the Shorelarks feeding unconcernedly on the shingle amongst all this activity, only flushing if someone went particularly close to them and quickly settling down again. Shorelarks to me are an enigmatic bird coming from the Arctic tundra, wintering just in small numbers, seemingly in different places each year and never guaranteed from one year to the next so there was a curious juxtaposition of these especially wild birds in this distinctly human semi-urban environment.
Yarmouth sea-front is also an excellent place to see Mediterranean Gulls, which seemed to be the commonest gull on the beach whilst we were there.
From Yarmouth we headed northwards along the coast stopping at various points from Waxham to Happisburgh in the hope of seeing the Humpbacked Whale. The visibility was not good and our quest failed but there were a few sea-duck such as Eider and Common Scoter passing by and the odd Red-throated Diver on the sea.
My friends' other target was the Parrot Crossbills at Holt Country Park. Heading there rather late in the morning we arrived to find a gathering of slightly despondent birders and no sign of the crossbills. Luckily within 10 minutes of our arrival 4 birds flew over the car park and in to some nearby pines and eventually 10 birds revealed themselves. Looking through branches and leaves and past trunks, viewing was awkward at first but when they flew into a pine tree near the road they became much easier to see and ultimately gave excellent views. Bill size and structure varied amongst the group but some were very impressive indeed with notably bull-necks and large heads. We nipped up to Cley for lunch and I just had time to find the Black Brant and see the Pale-bellied Brents with the Dark-bellieds on the Eye Field before having to head home.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Stock take

The rams had been in with the ewes for 16 days so the time had come to change the raddle colour on the rams chests. Raddle is a heavily pigmented oily paste smeared between the rams front legs that marks each ewe as the ram goes about his work. As ewes come in to season every 17 days or so in the autumn changing the colour allows us to see which ewes are now hopefully pregnant and also tells us roughly when each ewe is due to lamb. Walking across the marsh to deal with Colin, the Romney ram, the Stock Dove flock lifted off from the neighbouring recently ploughed arable fields. From 88 the flock had grown to 110 plus, a sizeable flock in Norfolk terms if the new Norfolk Bird Report 2012 is anything to go by. Wood Pigeon numbers, in contrast, seem to have fallen considerably from last winter but that could be because there are no oil seed rape crops in the immediate area this year.
After dealing with the rams I took the dog for a walk in to a distant corner of the patch by these arable fields in the hope of a something new. It was late in the day so many birds were heading to roost but there were 9 Fieldfares feeding on the wide uncultivated margins, looking particularly splendid as they always seem to do this time of year and a flock of 50 Linnets in the fields themselves. We surprised a Chinese Water Deer which stood motionless staring at us as we approached before he sped off across the field with my Jack Russell in hot pursuit. It suddenly stopped and turned to face its pursuer and the dog, clearly confused by this abrupt change, came to a sudden stop too. This was much to my relief as I've seen the damage a buck Muntjac inflicted on a small dog and this deer had a very fine set of tusks on him too. As I turned for home a Barn Owl glided silently ahead of me along the dyke edge, a sight to savour now they have become so scarce in the area.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Humpback Whale at Waxham

At last a weekend had arrived and I was free to do some birding at last. The problem with this time of year is that most of the daylight hours are spent at work so there is barely any time to get round even our marshes let alone get to anywhere else. I had also spent 2 days on a course in Redditch during which my husband had seen 2 Med Gulls and 5 Black-tailed Godwits on the scrape, along with a Jack Snipe on two occasions and several Common Snipe. The best I had done previous to this was a flock of 12 Ruff which was at least a site record.
Opening the bedroom curtains this morning it was pleasant to see that the usual Woodpigeons normally perched on the electricity cables across the marshes had been replaced by a flock of 88 of the much daintier Stock Dove. As Stock Doves seemed to have been declining locally this was a great sight. On a follow up walk around the marsh there seemed to be plenty of birds on the move with a small flock of Fieldfare heading determinedly west, groups of Starlings milling across the marshes, a large flock of Linnets on the nearby arable fields and Skylarks calling overhead. Three Marsh Harriers seem to have taken up winter residence and a skein of Pink-footed Geese passed down the valley. The scrape was quiet and we decided to turn the pipe up to allow more water to accumulate and flood on to the grassy surrounds. I was considering an afternoon walk along Haddiscoe Island when news of the reappearance of the Humpback Whale at Sea Palling had me missing lunch and heading northwards instead. The first day of the whale had been agonising as I was at work only 11 miles from it but unable to escape. I had been condemned just to read Tweets of how fantastic it was, so I was glad to have the opportunity to catch up with it (I hoped)
I arrived at Sea Palling in murky weather. The morning's sunshine had been replaced by low cloud and intermittent rain and there was a winter chill in the air. The whale had not been seen for a while and its last showing had been brief and distant. I joined 2 other cetacean searchers in scanning the horizon. Tim Allwood turned up and explained that when he had seen the whale previously it was on show almost continuously as it fed amongst a swirl of gannets. With just a few gannets passing through things were not looking hopeful. Penny Clarke arrived and joined the watch but after 40 minutes I decided to look further south with the plan of stopping at several points down the coast so drove first to Waxham for a quick scan of the sea there. Parking at the Shangri-La track I just took my bins and walked up on to the dunes. My gaze first fell on a close-in Red-throated Diver and then, just to its left but some way behind, a black shape loomed out of the water, the Humpback Whale! I rushed back to the car, fetched my scope, texted RBA and enjoyed distant but still good views of the whale as it repeatedly surfaced and dived surrounded by its gannet entourage. Even at a distance the whale was mightily impressive and I was thrilled to see it, my first proper big whale ever. It was easy to locate, you just had to look for the gannets, wait for it to blow and then the back and dorsal fin would follow. On occasion I even saw the tail flukes flip out of the water as it dived deeper, an amazing sight.  I was joined by Penny Clarke, Duncan Mcdonald and another birder and we all continued to watch and enjoy the whale as it moved slowly north and away until it was literally on the horizon.  A Bonxie added a little extra spice to the day and small groups of Starlings were regularly picked up making their way in off the sea. All in all a very satisfying day!

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Semi-palmated Plover on Hayling Island

It's been a while since I've posted as I've only recently returned from my annual pilgrimage to Scilly. Unfortunately not recently enough as my 2 weeks coincided with what could be described as a rather quiet spell, more later.
I was originally due to fly off at 1641 last Saturday but with an impending storm, needing to be back at work on Monday and also the thought that I could get to Hayling Island for a certain small American plover I changed my flight to 0841. The plane was a little late but eventually we boarded. As the engines started up I thought I could hear a distinctive whining noise from my hand bag. Pulling out my pager I glanced at it and in horror read the words Scilly: White's Thrush St Agnes in the Parsonage. Here was one of my most wanted birds just a mile away and I was about to fly away from it. I briefly considered ripping off my seat belt and running to the exit screaming "let me off" but decided that might not go down to well for future flights on Skybus. On arrival at St Just I headed straight in to the terminal and asked if they could get me back to Scilly asap. The answer was "well if you'd like to wait we might get you back by lunchtime but we can't guarantee it and the weather is closing in". Weighing up my options I stuck with Plan A and reluctantly headed eastwards in a desolate mood not helped by a growing migraine. Popping paracetamol I made slow but steady progress in to Dorset impeded by half term holiday traffic and headed in to Hampshire in  deteriorating weather. I eventually reached Hayling Island at 2.30. Miraculously as I drove across the causeway my migraine cleared but my next problem was that I only had a UK road atlas and a pager message giving a postcode and grid reference to find the site. A direct call to RBA  (huge thanks guys) soon had me pulling up at the right place where I could see a distant line of birders huddled on the edge of an exposed spit.
I joined the line just as a heavy rain squall arrived driven in by blustery winds. The plover had not been seen and the conditions at that moment were appalling. The rain eased a little, though not the wind, and I moved position in the line to get a better view of the gathering waders on the sand spit, and also found a friendly face in the crowd in the form of John M.
It was time to start scanning the flock, hood up and hunched over my scope to shelter the eyepiece from the rain and left hand firmly on top of my scope to counter the vibration from the wind. I scanned the flock of waders, Ringed Plovers, Dunlin and Sanderling, repeatedly from left to right and back again. The flock continually shifted with small groups of birds taking off and landing in a different position and others flying in from further back. For 45 minutes or so it was just Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover but then Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, hmmmmm....... In to my scope, although right at the back, appeared a distinctly small plover. My knowledge of Semi-p Plover ID was not great, my research on Scilly having been limited to a quick glance at a photo of this bird on someones laptop and a read of the Collins field guide. At the distance and in the conditions this bird was showing at,  plumage features were hard to see but what I remembered from the photo was the size difference and how cute the Semi-P plover looked compared to its neighbouring Ringed Plovers. The bird in front of me was small and definitely cuter looking than the Ringed Plover it stood next to, and just looked different. This was good old-fashioned jizz birding at its best.
I turned to my companion and asked how good his ID skills were. The answer was "well I've see the photo" followed by "why, have you got something interesting?" It turned out that he too had picked out and was pondering on the same bird and it was also apparent that some birders to our left were also getting excited about something. John went over to enquire and came back saying "it's the one that's running around". Sure enough, my bird had at that time been running around and was indeed the Semi-palmated Plover, a huge relief. As the news spread along the line it was good to be one of those giving directions to other anxious birders and not the one panicking as you desperately try to pick a bird out before it potentially disappears. It was also a day when having invested in a good scope with an excellent zoom also paid off as the light was murky to say the least. The plover obligingly came closer and closer, and eventually was almost the nearest bird of all of them, giving surprisingly good views allowing its plumage features to be seen too. After a good length of time enjoying the bird the entire flock took flight and even then the plovers small size stood out as the flock whirled past us.
It was time to head home and I discovered how cold and tired I was. The effort of keeping my scope still left my hands struggling to undo the clips on my tripod legs but as I walked back to my car a warm glow of satisfaction grew inside. My first new bird of 2013 and what a cracker it was! My tick drought was over.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Wonder of the Day and other moths (or the wonder of Twitter)

Last night, browsing through Twitter, my attention was grabbed by a tweet from @andymus1 suggesting that it would be a good night to try and catch a Merveille Du Jour. Splendidly named and beautiful in appearance this is a moth I've always wanted to see so following his advice out went the trap. Fortuitously I checked the Norfolk Moths website to see if they occur in my area (which they do) but noted their comment "Infamous for sitting just outside of the trap at dawn, rather than in it". Fortunately dawn at this time of year is at a relatively reasonable time so at 7am as the sun was rising I wandered out in to the back garden in my dressing gown and wellies and scanned the grass around the trap. My gaze was first caught by the bright crimson of a Garden Tiger, a moth more of high summer than mid-autumn:

Followed by the characteristically folded wings of two Angle Shades moths:

And then, almost unbelievably but unmistakeably, the mythical beast itself, a Merveille Du Jour (literally wonder of the day) perched in the grass by the trap just as Norfolk Moths said it would be. It is indeed a beautiful moth in the flesh, intricate black and white patterns on a lime-green background with black and white striped legs.

The trap itself had accumulated a good collection of Daddy Long-legs and caddis flies but also a selection of moths typical for the time of year, lots of Beaded Chestnuts, Large Wainscots, Lunar Underwing and Large Yellow Underwings but also this splendid Green-brindled Crescent:

And the grey but exquisitely patterned Blair's Shoulder-knot:

With others such as Pink-barred Sallow, Red-line Quaker and White-point I managed a total of 27 species of moths, not a bad haul for a Tweet.
As I was collecting the trap a single Brambling had flown over but this initial promise of migrants failed to deliver anything further. Hopeful for a patch Firecrest (there seemed to be a mini-invasion just a few miles away) I only managed to see 2 Green Sandpipers on the scrape. Bird experience of the day came from a Grey Heron which I spotted poised in stalking mode away from its usual favoured watery habitat. As I watched, intrigued to see what its quarry would be, it suddenly lunged forward and then lifted its head with a squirming mole in its beak. Constantly juggling the mole, it walked to the nearest dyke and dunked the unfortunate creature several times into the water although never for long enough to do anymore than rinse it. Eventually the mole went limp and was duly swallowed, a good but probably unusual meal for the Heron.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

All quiet on the eastern front

With Shetland seemingly drowning under a flood of rare birds and strong easterly winds down here it seemed reasonable to expect something interesting to turn up in Norfolk. Multiple mega-alerts for distant Brown Shrikes was starting to get somewhat annoying. There was however the small problem of bright sunshine and clear blue skies, excellent migrating conditions. Two walks around my patch during the day in the hope of a Yellow-browed Warbler or two turned out to be very quiet indeed. Things looked a little hopeful when a small party of about 6 Redwings dropped out of the sky into our wood but that was it as far as migrants were concerned. A singing Chiffchaff made it feel quite spring-like whilst the Swallow babies left the nest today adding a summery touch.

There are still good numbers of swallows about, unusually for very late September.
The scrape had a Green Sandpiper which seems to have taken up residence as my husband saw it yesterday too and I flushed a single Snipe from the muddy edge of another of our dykes.
Insects provided the most interest with a plum tree attracting the best showing of Comma butterflies of the whole year. The Commas are feeding on the sugary juices of the last few plums on the tree, a far preferable insect to the numerous wasps that largely devastated the crop a few weeks ago.

I also found a Large Red Underwing moth roosting on the side of the girls' now emptied inflatable swimming pool. Evolution has clearly equipped the moth with the instinct to roost on something upright assuming that upright things are usually trees against which it will be perfectly camouflaged. It hadn't anticipated the modern world and colourful plastics.

In my hunt for a patch tick I went through a roosting flock of gulls on a recently ploughed field near the house. There surely had to be a Med Gull amongst all the Black-headeds as we are only about 8 miles as the gull flies from the Med Gull mecca of Great Yarmouth? Sadly the short answer was no. They clearly prefer eating chips on the sea-front to grovelling around after worms in a muddy field.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

The scrape is finished

The piece-de-resistance arrived yesterday in the form of the all important pipe. Here it is installed in all it's glory! The cow looks really impressed.

The dyke level has been raised and water is flowing  on to the scrape nearly filling it already.

The plan over winter is to raise the water level further so it floods over on to the grass margins and hopefully attract snipe, lapwing and redshank in the spring. Today there were no birds at all but there were numerous pairs of Common and/or Ruddy Darters ovipositing in the water and Southern Hawkers hawking over the surface. We need some invertebrate life to hold any birds that should find us so the more insects that find it the better.
This one is a Ruddy Darter

Youngest daughter took the dog for a walk and returned cradling this Migrant Hawker which she had found sitting in the road. Unfortunately it has a deformed wing and is sadly doomed but it is still a handsome beast

Our Swallow family is doing well despite the worryingly cold, damp spell we had recently. The 3 youngsters look close to fledging and were being fed very regularly today. The Indian summer forecast bodes well for their future. This evening a flock of nearly 50 Swallows and House Martins were wheeling over the house and marshes presumably a locally roosting flock.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Lesser Grey Shrike at Leiston

Yesterday I thought my luck had turned. At last a mega-alert for a bird I needed on the mainland in the shape of a Brown Shrike in Hampshire! There was a snag however as I had to work on Saturday morning until midday at the earliest if I was lucky. To see the bird would require a 4 hour drive so it would be a race against time to get to before dusk. I asked around at work to see if anyone else was available to swap with but everyone was either on holiday, going on holiday or visiting family. I've never thrown a sickie for a bird and anyway, when it comes to Saturday morning surgery, you would have to be on your death bed to get out of it. I once did a Saturday feeling utterly rubbish with flu and a temperature of 104F,and not surprisingly the clients got a rubbish service, but I/they had no choice. It was with a heavy heart that I went into work at 8 o'clock this morning but as the morning wore on and there was no news it was rapidly becoming clear the bird had gone. Eventually the dreaded "no sign" message came through at 9.51 and though disappointed I could relax a little. Ironically I finished work dead on time for once at 12 o'clock.
As some consolation this did give me time to go and see the Lesser Grey Shrike at Leiston after a leisurely lunch although this wasn't even a Suffolk tick. There was plenty of space to park by Halfway Cottages and crossing the road we followed the track down which other birders had come to end up underneath the pylons that lead from Sizewell nuclear power station. The area looked to be perfect shrike habitat, open horse paddocks with numerous bushes and fence posts for a shrike to perch on and hawk insects. We were quickly on to the bird and followed it as it moved from one bush to another, coming close enough for a record shot

It was feeding very actively, making frequent forays to the ground and returning to its perch with various hapless large insects which on occasion appeared to be Lesser Stag Beetles. It was a bird well worth seeing. After having our fill of the shrike we moved on to nearby Minsmere to enjoy the sight of multiple Great White Egrets (singles are more usual), although I suspect this will become a steadily more frequent occurrence.
We only saw two of the three birds at Island Mere (with a Little Egret giving an excellent size comparison) but there was also a very showy (if distant) bittern that remained on view for almost the entire time we were in the hide so it was a worthwhile, if brief, visit. The scrape was very quiet.
So my quest for a tick in 2013 continues. Will my duck be broken soon? Watch this space.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Wilson's Phalarope and scrape progress

Yesterday was mad at work again. After spending upwards of 10 hours in theatre removing lumps, spaying cats, taking biopsies and putting a shattered leg back together, as I left work last night at 7.45pm, I decided I was definitely going to get a proper half day today and definitely going to go and see something. My pick of the available local birds was the Wilson's Phalarope, partly because it is years since I've seen one (1990 to be precise) and also because I enjoy phalaropes.
Mid-morning it looked like it was going to be the Lesser Grey Shrike at Leiston instead after the Phalarope had been reported to fly off but by noon the Phalarope was back and at 12.45 I shot out the door at work and headed north-west to Cley.
The Phalarope was on show on Pat's Pool in front of Bishop Hide when I arrived, almost the closest wader, feeding actively in the company of a Ruff or two. To me phalaropes have a certain poise and elegance about them that many other waders lack. Their enigmatic appearances also adds to their attraction as you can never be sure of seeing a phalarope in any given year. The rarity status of Wilson's Phalarope make in particularly special.
Whilst admiring the Wilson's , the whistling of Wigeon, the piping of Teal and the chilly, grey overcast conditions had a very wintry feel especially with the arrival of about 50 Pink-footed Geese. Summer is over it seems.
Moving on I called in at Walsey Hills to see the Red-backed Shrike there. It was feeding around a clump of ivy in the hedge that ran alongside the path. Presumably the dense ivy was the best place to find insects in the cold. It's been a good year for Red-backed Shrikes, this being my third so far.
With the arrival of rain I turned for home to check out the progress on our scrape before darkness fell. The piles of earth have finally been flattened, so from mountains :

We now have what looks like a ploughed field:

The rooks seemed to appreciate it at least. It will be intriguing to see what germinates from a long buried seed bank next spring although I suspect it will be mostly rush and coarse sedge.
The water control pipe still hasn't been installed unfortunately as the contractors are still waiting for the bend for one end to be delivered, however we can now start to raise the water level in the dyke to get some water on to the scrape.
A Little Egret was a pleasant surprise feeding along the muddy edge of the dyke behind the scrape. They were regular on our neighbours rushy pools before they dried out so it's good to have one on our land.
Meanwhile our swallows are feeding chicks. They could do with the return of some warmer weather if they're going to survive..
On an almost complete change of subject but with a birding connection, I took a few sheep to a Rare Breed Sale at Melton Mowbray at the weekend. One of my rams sold in the auction to a buyer who introduced himself to me afterwards. I asked him where he was from, he told me Lakenheath and it turns out he is the grazier for the RSPB reserve there. Should you go to Lakenheath and spot a Southdown ram, it'll be my Baby Nutter so called because he takes after his sire Nutter who was christened for his penchant for repeatedly ramming you. Fortunately Baby Nutter does it much more gently than his dad should you ever find yourself in his field. He does have a posher pedigree name by the way but somehow the name Baby Nutter stuck.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The mountains move

It's been quiet on the scrape marsh for the last 2 days. We still had the digger but the driver was away on another job. However at the weekend we put another board into the sluice on the main dyke surrounding our marshes to get some water on to the mini-scrape. After work on Monday as dusk approached I wandered out to check on progress. The water had flowed in a little more but as I approached the scrape a small brown bird perched upright on a clod of earth next to the scrape caught my eye. Lifting my bins this proved to be a Wheatear, another scarce migrant out here and species 120 for my Patchwork Challenge list. It flitted on to the mud of the new scrape after insects so it looks like the bare earth may have played its part in attracting it to visit. On the walk home, a Hobby flew over in the gathering gloom.
After leaving the board in for 3 days, the knock-on effect of raising the level in the main dyke was to raise the water in the internal dykes so water has started to flood down the current connecting channel on to the main scrape particularly the smaller southern pool.

Happily the digger was back at work today but the disturbance meant there were no birds. It has started on the big task of spreading the spoil. The method seems to be to move the piles steadily across the marsh leaving a little behind as they go, so the heaps are creeping ever further from the scrape. We're starting to get an idea of how it will eventually look. However fearful that too much water increases the risk of the digger getting stuck, we have removed the board from the sluice and unfortunately the water level will drop again. It looks like the last thing to be done will be the installation of the water control pipe which will allow us to maintain the water level on the scrape and get it flooded to its full capacity (and probably beyond).

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Digging finished

The digger driver was back this morning, despite it being Saturday, to get the basic digging finished. By lunchtime the scrape had reached its full extent but there's still much to do before we can let the water on.
There's this lot to shift for starters:

And that's only half of it. It's amazing how much spoil comes out of a fairly shallow depression in the ground. The place is going to look like a war-zone once its spread around, but I suppose it will mean more mud for birds to poke about in especially once we get some winter rain and the marsh lives up to its name.
There's also the water control pipe to go in although its a very simple affair of a length of Osma drain pipe with a bend at the end which you just turn up or down to get water on or off the scrape.
Despite only having a trickle of water, when I went to chat to the digger driver this morning, a Ruff appeared from behind his digger and circled round over the scrape. It's a very long time since we've seen a Ruff on the marshes out here but it was clearly attracted by the mud and glint of water so I hope this is an omen of things to come.
Other birds of note today were 2 Swifts with a passage of House Martins, Peregrine and Yellow Wagtail. The Swallow is still sitting.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Steady progress

I didn't get home from work until dusk yesterday so it wasn't until late this afternoon that I could inspect progress.
Yesterday was spent finishing off the dyke re-profiling and scattering the spoil. Natural England had suggested the best way to do this was with a muck-spreader which does work very well producing a thin even layer across the marsh surface which won't damage the existing flora.

There are just two problems; first it takes an awfully long time to load and then spread 8 tons of earth at a time, second it needs a hefty tractor to pull it and, despite the marshes being as dry as they'll ever be, it nearly got stuck a couple of times creating an unexpected extra water feature on the marsh. The driver didn't dare venture on to one of the rougher marshes we'd designated for spoil spreading deeming it too risky.
Today work started on the scrape proper and by the end of the day about 2/3 of one of the 2 main pools had been dug.

Unfortunately the muck spreader has been called away to another job so small mountains of earth are beginning to accumulate. These are about 8 feet tall and can only get bigger.

With impending rain I suspect we will end up having the digger scraping the spoil out as flat as he can and squashing it down with the digger bucket. Not ideal but earth piles don't really fit in with the local landscape.
There was also the question of what to do with the pile of scraped up cut vegetation that had been piled up at the weekend. I decided the only thing to do was try burning it. The rush, sedge and grass had dried out nicely on the surface and it caught light easily with a single match.

 However the pile also consists of a large amount of earth, some that had built up around the base of the clumps of rush and some that had been inadvertently scraped up with the vegetation (creating more mini-water features), so that after an initial satisfying rush of flame it settled down to a steady smoulder. I stayed with the 'fire' until dusk stirring areas to move the earth and get more areas burning but the pile was still substantial when I left. During that time the wind shifted from a gentle south-easterly  to easterly, round to north-easterly and then finally a light northerly, a sign of the on-coming change in the weather. I had 3 species of wader fly over, 3 Snipe, 2 Lapwing and a Golden Plover but the scrape has yet to host its first water bird although a Pied Wagtail paid a brief visit.

On a completely different note, the Swallows in our car-port have decided to try for a third brood and are currently sitting on eggs. Have they got time to rear a brood to fledging before the weather forces them south?

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The digger arrives!

The scrape project has rumbled on for much of the summer. Our Natural England adviser didn't visit until the end of July and contractors were slow with their estimates. When they arrived the whole project appeared to be non-starter with the cost coming in at the equivalent of a brand new small car. Ironically, digging the scrape is the easy bit, getting rid of the spoil is what piles on the pounds. However, in the middle of last week, a much more affordable estimate came in from a local contractor. We posted an acceptance through his door at 11am on Thursday morning and 2 hours later had a call asking if they could start early this week.
Suddenly it was panic stations. The tall coarse vegetation on the marsh needed cutting short to have a better idea of the topography of the field and make it easier to mark out the areas to be scraped. Our local dairy farmer, Paul Rushmer, came up trumps and was out on Saturday morning to get that job done. We also needed to drop the water level in the dyke to make life easier for the digger by removing a board from the sluice that hadn't been moved in 18 months. My husband, having just had a hernia repair, was banned from doing this as it involved perching on the top of the sluice, removing the wedges holding the board down, digging away at the reeds that were jamming the board in place and eventually lifting the heavy hardwood board. Under his direction I managed to get this done without getting a soaking and it was very satisfying to see the water pouring through the sluice.

                                                              Location for the scrape

                                                             Dyke bordering scrape field

                                                                 Cut field and cow

The digger was due to arrive at 9.30 this morning but when I drove out of our drive at 8am I noticed a pickup parked in the entrance to our marshes. On investigation there was the digger too, waiting for someone to unlock the gates. With the gate unlocked the digger headed off across the marshes and I headed off to work.

By the time I got home from work the digger driver had finished the mini-scrape and was well through the re-profiling of 210 metres of dyke edge to create a 2 metre wide berm which will eventually  become a wide reed margin ideal for breeding warblers, Marsh Harriers and maybe wintering Bitterns and Bearded Tits (one can but hope!).

                                                      Digger at work on the mini-scrape

                                                            Completed mini-scrape

Tomorrow work starts on the scrape proper. Hopefully it will be done by the end of the week and we can get some water on ready for any passing waders to drop in.

Just in case anybody is interested in how I got on at the Aylsham Show, my shearling ram, Bentley, came first in his class and Phoebe, my ewe lamb, came second in hers, with the 2 Romney lambs also coming second in their classes. It was my most successful show of the year.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

A weekend of Wrynecks and Whinchats

The weather forecast for this weekend looked excellent and so it proved to be. I've stayed local and had a good weekend, despite Lowestoft not quite being on a par with Burnham Overy on the North Norfolk coast.
I ran our moth trap on Friday night so most of Saturday morning was spent sorting through the trap after walking the marshes in the drizzle. The marshes were quiet but the trap was seething with moths including some new ones for the garden and some good records (I think) for the local area. Top of the tree was this Latticed Heath:

Closely followed by Sharp-angled Peacock:

The rain eased off in the afternoon and with reports of migrants coming in my husband and I headed off to Corton on the coast starting first in the churchyard where 2 Pied Flys had been reported. We drew a blank here so walked out on the track past the old sewage works. Things started to look more promising with a Whinchat sat on the wire fence and then a Wheatear on the path. Two more Whinchats appeared and a Yellow Wagtail flew across the barley crop. Reaching the cliff edge I heard a Common Sandpiper calling and looking down saw a flock of 29 waders flying off the beach. Given the location we were expecting  this to be one Common Sand in a flock of Turnstones but lifting bins it was obvious that they were all Common Sands! I don't recall ever having seen a group this big being used to seeing them in scattered ones or twos.
My husband is usually the keen sea watcher but it was me who was avidly scanning the sea for skuas and terns and him that turned to look back across the fields. He suddenly announced he had a Wryneck in his scope sitting on the sewage works fence. In the seconds it took me to leap round and look down his scope the bird had dropped off the fence. Suddenly losing my enthusiasm for seawatching we walked quickly back to the sewage works but there was no sign of the Wryneck. My husband headed off around the back of the compound whilst I stayed scanning back and forth across from the dry bank, scattered with ragwort and dead docks, to the fence repeatedly. On what seemed like the 50th scan the Wryneck seemingly materialised from nowhere in front of me, sitting motionless in full view. There was plenty of time for my husband to get back from the far side of the compound and then watch as it started to feed before it slowly sidled out of view. Having tweeted the news out a small group of local birders rapidly appeared and, having explained where it had been, we left them to go for a quick walk around the new sewage works. It was quiet here until we got to the old railway line where a Tree Pipit was feeding by the side of the track under the trees.
This morning I worked the marshes again hoping for migrants and was rewarded when I found first one, then three and ultimately five Whinchats feeding in a weedy field. I toyed  with the idea of going to the North Norfolk coast this afternoon but news that the Greenish Warbler was showing well on the North Denes in Lowestoft had us heading there instead. Unfortunately this bird proved extremely elusive and the best I did was to hear it calling for 30 seconds. A Wryneck perched in a pine tree by the wall of the cricket ground was some compensation.
Tomorrow I'm off to the Aylsham Show with children and sheep so I'm hoping there's nothing too good found, although Blickling Park where the show is held isn't that far from the North Norfolk coast. I'm sure the sheep won't mind a small detour if needs be!

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The birds and the bees (and the butterflies)

I've got the week off work so I've been able to spend more time out on the marshes after spending the weekend at Birdfair.
Birdfair was excellent; an almost non-stop meeting of friends old and new including being introduced to someone with whom it turned out I'd shared the same minibus trip to see a Ross's Gull in Thurso in 1984.
Back home the number of butterflies has been remarkable. The fleabane on one of our meadows, in a flower-rich area we keep the livestock out of until about now, has put on an impressive display this year and has attracted seemingly hundreds of butterflies.

The majority are Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells but the highlight was at least 2 Clouded Yellows:

I also saw 2 more of these usually scarce butterflies on thistles on a neighbouring marsh and yet another flew through  the garden yesterday afternoon. With numerous other reports along the coast there seems to have been a major arrival of them. Encouragingly the first Common Blues of the year were also out on the fleabane having been worryingly absent up to now.

And there were also a few Small Coppers and Painted Ladies:

There has been a trickle of birds moving through. A sub-singing Willow Warbler was the first since the spring and a juvenile Cuckoo flew across the garden pursued by an agitated Jackdaw. Whitethroats and Blackcaps have joined the Blackbirds in the bird-cherries. This morning a small kettle of raptors, 2 Marsh Harriers and 3 Buzzards, took advantage of a rising thermal to soar high in to the sky and were briefly joined by a Hobby. The Yellow Wagtail, that last week was in the unusual habitat of the patio, today chose to sit on top of our Holly tree.
Yesterday we finally managed to get our wool to the haulier for onward delivery to the British Wool Board depot atStamford. The sheep were sheared in June but a small group were sheared in February and a queen White-tailed Bumblebee decided in the early spring that the bag I had placed their wool in was the ideal site for a nest. With wool now attracting a better price (80p/kg, so still not brilliant) I didn't want to leave behind the 30kg or so of wool this bag contained so all the wool had to wait. The nest was finally abandoned last week so the nest could be investigated and the wool could at last be sorted and packed and sewed into an official wool sheet.

The nest is just above the bottom handle. This is it close up: