Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Waxwings - between cruciates and consults

Minimal effort was required for today's ornithological treat. There has been a flock of 50+ waxwings in the housing estate behind the surgery for the last 3 days so with the mornings cruciate surgery done and dusted, and 50 minutes before afternoon consults, and a lovely sunny day, it was time to go and look for them. I tracked 53 of them down by their trilling calls to a tree in the edge of Gorleston Cemetery but they quickly flew off to a well berried tree by the traffic lights at the end of Crab Lane before shooting off in to the housing estate. Within seconds I had a Tweet from Peter Ransome saying "Waxwings Almond Road now". Nipping down an alleyway the flock was quickly in sight, (although not Peter at first, until I spotted him sat in his car watching them) showing beautifully in the weak winter sun, a pleasure as ever.

I reckon that if I spent long enough sat in the staff room with a pair of bins I should be able to see these birds from work on one of their fly arounds.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

More Patchwork excitement

It was back to work for me as usual yesterday but, with January drawing to a close, after I had left for work husband set off on his last big Footit walk. As lunchtime approached I checked my phone to find a text from him about not one but two Great Crested Grebes on the Haddiscoe New Cut. Strange what Patchwork Challenge does to you. This was a species completely new to both of us on the patch so, particularly as one was by the houseboats just by the main road, I just had to twitch what is otherwise a common bird!
I pulled up by the houseboats to find no grebe. There was a strong, bitterly cold wind blowing across the marshes and I was dressed for work not birding but there was only one thing to do. Fortunately I had a jacket, walking boots, bins and scope in the car (when you work right on the East coast these things are essential in case of bird emergencies) but it still felt very chilly as I headed out along the New Cut. As I walked a flock of Pink-feet dropped on to Thorpe Marshes distantly to my left. I stopped, scanned the flock and was rewarded with a brief flash of white on the forehead of one of them. Surely a Whitefront? I scanned again and then another flash of white. It must be. My eyes were starting to water looking into the wind so I set off again. I had to walk a mile before finally locating my quarry, a fine Great Crested Grebe fishing in the river. Fantastic!
Feeling cold I turned for home and took the easier walk along the concrete road. A car load of birders approached and stopped alongside me. The driver introduced himself as Chris Murphy and asked if I had seen the Rough-legged Buzzard. Slightly embarrassed I explained that I had actually been looking for Great Crested Grebe for Patchwork Challenge and hadn't looked for the Buzzard at all. As it turned out Chris not only had heard of Patchwork Challenge but was also doing it himself on his patch in Ireland so understood perfectly where my priorities lay.
Husband had only just got in from his Footit walk when I arrived home and was telling me of his 4 Footit ticks and the two Whitefronts he had seen with the Pink-footed Goose flock when I happened to glance out of the window and noticed a Brambling on the birdfeeders, a third Patchwork tick for the day! This was not what I expected on a work day. Strange it should appear after the thaw but I had also seen 2 Redwings in the garden that morning, a bird that had been absent during the snow. I guess it's birds moving again. Here's a photo of aforementioned Brambling taken by husband through the window.

My Patchwork Challenge score has reached 78 species and 91 points, not bad going for January although I suspect it will slow dramatically now until the spring.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Big Garden Birdwatch and a missed opportunity

The thaw has arrived. Even early this morning the light overnight snow was turning to rain. I was up earlyish as usual (livestock leave little room for long lie-ins) and whilst getting dressed I happened to glance out of the bedroom window just as half a dozen swans flew over the house. The only optical equipment in the bedroom is a scope so I raced downstairs to the kitchen, grabbed a pair of bins and rushed to the front window but of the swans there was no sign. Heading back upstairs I scanned the marshes in case they had doubled back but again nothing. I suspected they were Bewicks or Whoopers, both an irregular occurrence on the house list but my views were too brief to be sure of either.
The sun was out for once but birding was off the menu with things to do. As I headed off to Beccles with younger daughter to buy a birthday present for her friend, husband was instructed to do the Big Garden Birdwatch. When I got home 2 hours later he was 40 minutes in to it having first topped up the feeders and scattered vast quantities of feed on the ground for good measure. Again I missed the highlight, a Lesser Redpoll, which appeared on the feeders almost as soon as he started his count and disappeared almost as quickly. In his hour he recorded 101 birds of 20 species most of which I saw too in the last 20 minutes apart from a Coal Tit. The Blackbird count only peaked at 7 birds in total but almost as if they had been hiding, shortly after the count had finished the numbers shot back up to 12 birds.
We had to spend the afternoon getting more round hay bales out to the sheep in various fields as the grass was still covered with snow so it wasn't until 3.45 that I checked my phone for local bird news Tweets to find that there were 6 Whooper Swans 3 miles down the valley at Somerleyton. Hmmm.
I spent the next hour staking out the marshes just in case they decided to go for a fly but to no avail. Although I drew a blank with swans I had a distant flock of Pink-feet, a panicked flock of 21 Fieldfares flushed off the marsh by a Sparrowhawk, Green Woodpecker, an immature male Marsh Harrier, Buzzard and Barn Owl so not a bad 60 minutes at all.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Water Rail

A dusk walk around my patch produced patchwork gold in the shape, or rather sound, of a Water Rail skulking in the still semi-open water in an alder wood. This is not a bird I've noted before on patch so it was a real bonus for my patchwork challenge list. Also seen were 3 Woodcock, Buzzard and Barn Owl.
Barn Owls have been very evident locally as they desperately try to find food on the snow covered ground. I had one by the A143 on the way in to work this morning just outside Bradwell, a place I've never seen one before. I also had 2 on the way home from work and another 2 on the school run this afternoon. The thaw couldn't come a moment too soon.
At least a Kestrel on the marsh had some luck with hunting when I watched one sat on a post enthusiastically plucking fur from a small rodent before eating it.
The cold weather is pushing the Rooks into the garden now. Although they nest overlooking the garden, they rarely venture in to the garden itself unlike the Jackdaws but the ample free food particularly at the chicken feeder is drawing them in. We still have 3 Reed Buntings at the feeders, Blackbirds have peaked at 14 together in the back garden and a Fieldfare has taken to plucking the tiny black berries from the privet hedge bordering our patio. Surprisingly, still no Bramblings in the garden

Thursday, 24 January 2013

New lamb today

Just in case anyone is wondering, Mildred lambed today. She had a big, strong ewe lamb, up on its feet in minutes so tonights freezing temperatures should cause it no problems. I've put a dog coat on it just in case. :-)

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Haddiscoe Island in the snow.

It was a particularly penetratingly cold morning today with a strong bitter easterly wind blowing straight in over the marshes. I decided it was worth checking out Haddiscoe Island if only to see if there were any interesting ducks on the ice free New Cut. By interesting I mean ducks that would be useful for my Patchwork list such as Tufted Duck or Pochard, or if I was really pushing the boat out, Goldeneye so I wasn't asking for much. I set off in the family 4x4 on roads like an ice-rink. Meanwhile husband took the sensible option staying in bed until 11, before settling himself in front of Sky Sports for the afternoon.
Thankfully the main road was clear and I arrived at the New Cut without incident. The snow on the embankment on it had few footprints in it. No one else had been as foolhardy as me but I was wrapped up well and set off optimistically.
My optimism was misplaced. The only new ducks with the usual Teal and Mallard was a group of Wigeon, a species I've already got on my patchwork list as a calling flyover. Still it was nice, I suppose, to get the bird in the flesh. Turning in to the icy wind I started to scan the Island only to find it devoid of any geese, swans or egrets but managed to pick up a distant Peregrine ( a new patchwork bird) plus 6 or so Marsh Harriers.
I'm on antibiotics for a sinus infection so when my nose started to bleed ( I assume due to the cold) it was time to call it a day and head home. I turned to retrace my steps and saw a small flock of geese heading my way. Raising my bins the first birds I looked at were Pink-feet but the next was completely white with black wing tips, the Ross's Goose(!), followed by half a dozen Barnacle Geese. I can't count the Ross's but the Barnacles are going on the patchwork list. Making my way back to the car the only other birds of note were a single Bearded Tit, a flock of 10 Skylarks and a Reed Bunting.
Ironically as I headed home in the car on the opposite side of the valley, the same flock of geese appeared in front of me again, only half a mile from my house, presumably trying to find somewhere to feed and once home a scan from the warmth of the bedroom produced another Peregrine sitting out on Thorpe Marshes. Seems I hadn't needed to leave home at all!

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Winter Thrushes

Thankfully (or if you're my daughters, disappointingly) there was no more snow overnight despite the forecast. With lots of thrush activity in the garden I decided go for a trudge through the snow and do another round of my Winter Thrushes Survey. The hot spot turned out to be the garden. All the food we're putting out had drawn in at least 10 Blackbirds and one or possibly 2 Song Thrushes, and 4 handsome Fieldfares were feeding in our cotoneaster, probably the only bush with good numbers of berries on it in the local area. Here's one of them:

Away from the shelter of the garden it felt very bleak with a brisk, icy south-easterly wind. The treacherous roads were largely deserted. Here's a typically snowy scene.

The black marks in the bank just to the left of the church show where someone carried straight on in their car. There were few thrushes on the arable 'uplands' but a surprise was a flock of about 50 Skylarks feeding in a rape field. Three Hares seemed to think it was March and were chasing each other around another field, two Snipe flushed from a small patch of unfrozen ground and a mixed flock of Red-legged and Grey Partridge flushed and disappeared in to a crop of sugar beet.

Some of you may recognise the above gate way if you came to see the River Warbler although it's looking very different from a warm, green July evening. The walk out on to the marshes was bleaker still

Some of the dykes were still unfrozen but hoped-for Water Rails had failed to take advantage of them. A single Song Thrush, however, had found them to its liking as did a single Fieldfare. Three Common Buzzards circled together over one of the alder woods bordering the marshes and there was a small flock of Meadow Pipits.
Back in the warmth of the house, 3 Reed Buntings graced the patio feeders. Despite the garden opening straight on to the marsh, the Reed Buntings only found the feeders last year but once discovered seem to have taken to them enthusiastically particularly now the weather has turned cold. I wonder if anything new will make the same discovery?

Friday, 18 January 2013


Deep snow now covers the marshes. The first bird I saw when I opened the curtains this morning was a Woodcock flying across the garden, probably from where its been feeding under the hedges, to roost in the alder wood, then a Buzzard heading in the opposite direction. The journey to work was decidedly hairy for the first mile, once I had managed to get gong that is. Having stopped the car on the road to close the gate to the drive, the wheels at first spun helplessly on the icy surface as I tried to move off. With a bit of steering wheel jiggling I eventually set off and was surprised to negotiate the hill up to the church with only a little bit of slippage. It was a different story on the way home from work as there was now a car stuck on the hill blocking the way so I had to take a long, slow detour to approach home from the opposite direction.
Husband had managed 3 Footit ticks during the morning, Brambling and Bullfinch, which I'm not bothered about as I'll catch up with those at some point, but also 7 Bewicks Swans, an irregular sighting here, which had flown up the valley. Surprisingly there is still a flock of about 500 Pink-footed Geese out on the marshes.
Unfortunately birding was off the menu as the priority was getting fodder to the livestock particularly with it looking like this bad weather is set in for a while. The poor Southdowns which had previously been enjoying the lush grass in their winter field at Thurlton now had snowballs stuck to their woolly faces from trying to reach the grass beneath the snow. It looked briefly like we might have got the car stuck in the snow in the field but working on the principle that if it won't go forward trying going back the way you came we were soon free and heading home.
Back in the garden a small flock of Fieldfares has taken up residence in our cotoneaster, the only bush in the garden with any berries on it and a sensible wren has discovered that the greenhouse is several degrees warmer than outside and probably full of insects lurking in nooks and crannies. Hopefully I can get out tomorrow for a proper look round.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Cold weather movements

I was still off work yesterday with the virus slow to release its grip. However it did allow me to indulge in a bit of window birding and add 3 more species to the patchwork list. First was a single Redwing in the top of an alder, my first for the year. Next a Goldcrest, trapped inside the netting protecting my purple sprouting broccoli plants from the ravages of the local vast population of woodpigeons. This was quickly rescued, a tiny bird in a human hand, and safely released. Finally a flock of about 50 Golden Plovers appeared out on the marshes.
Other winter birds were a flock of 15 Fieldfares, handsome as ever, and the flock of Pink-footed Geese also remained. Raptor wise, there was a total of 3 Buzzards on various gate and telegraph posts, 2+ Marsh Harriers and a Barn Owl.
The snow finally arrived in the evening but we escaped the worst and woke to only a light covering. Back at work in Gorleston there was no snow at all despite the rest of the county being badly hit especially this afternoon. Several small flocks of Fieldfare were evident today and a single Song Thrush, now a rarity in the garden, put in an appearance under the bird feeders, another patchwork tick. If only it were the weekend. Birds may be being pushed to the coast by the weather so there could be some patchwork ticks out there for me and a Winter Thrushes survey could produce more than just a few blackbirds. Fingers crossed.
My patchwork challenge list is now on 71 species and 82 points.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Black-bellied Dipper

It was a fine morning yesterday and, despite my cold and the cold, news that the previously ephemeral Black-bellied Dipper at Thetford was showing again had me hitting the road for the further reaches of the county. Reaching the car park I was getting my scope out of the boot when a photographer wandered by. I asked him if the bird was showing and with the reply "down to 10 feet" the scope went back in the boot.
Sure enough, as I crossed the wooden bridge I saw the Dipper straight away. Having been previously so elusive the bird seemed now to be positively posing for the photographers. Between active bouts of feeding when it would dive in to the stream, surface every time with a caddis fly larva which would then have the hell beaten out of it to reveal a very fat, juicy white body, it would sit motionless for periods of time in full view. It would turn from time to time as if to present a better angle and seemed utterly unconcerned by the machine-gun sound of numerous motor drives firing simultaneously. The photographers were in heaven and even my photos aren't too bad.

Back home my patchwork list increased by one with 3 Fieldfares sat in the tops of the oaks, a cold weather movement perhaps.

Today, I've been completed floored by a virus on top of my cold. High temperature, aching joints etc have kept me indoors apart from feeding the sheep, a job that has to be done however ill you feel. One of the downsides of keeping livestock I suppose.

Friday, 11 January 2013


It's the end of a quiet week bird-wise. A busy week at work, a horrendous cold and attending to my new lambs have kept birding to a minimum. The only new birds for my patchwork challenge list have been Coal Tit (on the feeders) and previously overlooked Dunnock. However Reed Buntings returned to the garden on Monday and the Pink-feet were back on the marshes viewable from the house. Careful scanning failed to produce any other goose species with them but I'll keep trying.
Lambing is over for now. I lamb a few ewes early every year for lambs for showing in the summer. As if on cue the first show schedule for the Hadleigh Show in May arrived today ( a sure sign of impending spring). We've ended up with 15 lambs out of 7 ewes, a very good total and all seem to be fit and well with no signs of the Schmallenberg virus that is now hitting flocks further west and north.The weather gods smiled on us too. The dry, mild, windless conditions were perfect, unlike the forecast for this weekend, so the ewes were able to lamb outside with plenty of space to find a quiet undisturbed corner. They seem to lamb more easily that way and there's no rush to get the lambs under cover and dried off. The only downside this year is I've got 10 ram lambs and only 5 ewe lambs. I would much prefer it the other way around. There's one ewe left to lamb on 23rd January ( Mildred, star of a CBeebies Green Balloon Club special - yes, honest) so my fingers are crossed for ewe lambs.
No bird pics but here's a cutesy lamb photo of two of the new arrivals

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Haddiscoe Island

The weekend and time at last for some patch work, around lambing sheep and work that is.
Saturday started well with twin ram lambs born to my daughters favourite and our best show ewe, Mary. Things went a bit downhill when Saturday morning surgery threw 4 euthanasias at me. It was a relief to finish work and get home for the early afternoon.
Scanning the marshes from the bedroom a ringtail Hen Harrier drifted by heading south, always a great bird to see. We get just a few records annually at most, unlike Marsh Harrier which we see daily so it was a good bird for my patchwork challenge list. There followed a proper birding slog around a soggy patch which was hard work with birds seemingly keeping low in the dull, overcast conditions. Winter birds in particular appeared to be thin on the ground but I managed a total of 41 species, the highlights being a Woodcock flushed out of our alder wood, a singing Cetti's and a mixed flock of Siskin and Redpoll.
Checking the ewes in the evening I was rewarded with a flyover calling Wigeon, a duck that has become surprisingly scarce here in recent years. I think they've all been sucked in to the RSPB reserves either at Buckenham or Berney although conditions look ideal for them out here too.
Sunday dawned with a beautiful sunrise and 2 new lambs born with a bit of assistance. It was a lovely clear morning. These sunny days in midwinter always bring the rooks back to their rookery for a brief visit almost as if they're just checking everything is OK or maybe staking an early claim to a particular nesting spot and today was no exception. There was much chatty cawing going on in the tops of the trees. With nothing looking imminent in the lambing field there was time to head over to Haddiscoe Island and the New Cut which I have included in my Patchwork Challenge area.
Husband is doing Foot It this January so he had already plodded off on the 2.5 mile walk across the marshes towards the New Cut. With less time as I didn't want to leave the ewes unattended for too long I went the easy way and drove but not before I had heard a Mistle Thrush singing, a species he's not guaranteed to get in January.
Reaching the New Cut first I trudged out to our favoured vantage point about half way along the cut. There was a large flock of Pink-feet not far out on the marsh, a distant Short-eared Owl and 5 Bearded Tits in the reeds along the river but no sign of the Rough-legged Buzzard or Great White Egret. Husband eventually arrived having been rewarded for his effort with a small flock of Waxwings, Kingfisher and Yellowhammer. As if on cue the GW Egret walked out of some distant reeds in to the open then quickly out of sight. Of the Rough-leg there was still no sign. Intensive scanning produced more SE Owls including a much closer one and a Little Grebe on the river was another good patch bird. It was getting time for me to head back home but the GW Egret decided to put on a good show by flying out of hiding and into full view. Meanwhile husband had set off further down the Cut with the aim of getting to some hidden pools in the far distance in the hope of diving ducks, when he phoned me to say he had the Rough-leg. Deciding the sheep would be fine I route-marched to where he was standing to see the Rough-legged Buzzard perched in a field close to the Cut screened from our previous position by a stand of reeds. We had excellent, much closer views than most before the bird took off, flew the width of the Island and seemed to disappear either into or over Waveney Forest. Rushing anxiously home I found nothing whatsoever had happened in the lambing field ( and still nothing 7 hours later) but the mists rolled in across the marsh putting an end to the sunshine and birding.
My patchwork challenge list now stands at 64 sp and 75 points, a good start to the year.

Friday, 4 January 2013


As I was driving to work in Lowestoft this morning a small flock of birds flying out of the roadside hedge caught my attention. Standing the car on its nose and reversing rapidly on to the verge a flock of 17 Waxwings obligingly dropped in to the hedge in front of me and started eating the few remaining berries on a hawthorn. An excellent start to the day. Typically my camera and bins were in the boot of the car but at 8.15am the light was appalling and any photos would have been dreadful anyway.
At lunchtime I went back to Hamilton Dock for second helpings of the Great Northern Diver. Sadly it spent most of its time out of sight behind the boats in the marina coming out in to the open for only one brief closeish dive around, so no more photos I'm afraid. (You're probably relieved). Despite it being a mild day everywhere else, it felt bitterly cold, as always when standing by the Hamilton Dock in winter, so I was surprised to see a Bumblebee flying along the harbour wall. Surrounded by acres of concrete and with not a single flower in sight I don't rate it's chances of survival.
Work again tomorrow morning then hopefully some time to get going properly on my Patchwork Challenge list.
And oh, we have a lamb!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Unseasonal happenings

It's midwinter but this evening I watched 3 bats (presumably pipestrelles) hunting insects attracted to the lights of the sheep shed. Yesterday I saw a male blackbird collecting nesting material. Before you know it there'll be lambs gambolling in the fields......

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Great Northern Diver and another patch tick

It was a cold, wet, dreary day today but as I was working in Lowestoft this morning, lunchtime found me making the short trip down the road to a cold, wet and especially dreary Hamilton Dock. The Great Northern Diver was playing hide-and-seek around the yachts in the marina but eventually swam purposefully out into the main body of water to give excellent scope views. Unfortunately it was rather too distant and dismal for my little camera as the photo below shows

I'm working in Lowestoft again on Friday so if the weather is brighter I may try and get a better picture so you can fully appreciate the subtle plumage details on this fine species. Alternatively you might be better looking here or here.

Back home for an extended lunch I scanned the marshes hoping the Rough-leg might put in appearance. There were 2 Common Buzzards and a Barn Owl but not a lot else. Scanning across the marshes for the twentieth time a large brown bird with long trailing legs, tucked in neck and long bill erupted from the reeds into my scope, a @?$&*#% Bittern!!! It flew briefly across the reeds before dropping back down and out of sight. We have long thought this was a potential bird for the patch but it was fantastic to finally see one especially scope views and from the bedroom window too. An excellent start to the patch list.

Heading back to work 2 Little Egrets flew over the car as I crossed the Haddiscoe Dam, not a bad haul for a lunch break.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Out of Patch (and a Patch tick)

Today was January 1st. Having entered Patchwork Challenge you would have thought you would find me working my Patch hard. Erm, no..... I'm tied to the patch this coming weekend so I decided to head cross-border into Suffolk for some waterfowl year ticks.
With a few sheepy things to do first thing and 2 (nearly teenage) children to drag kicking and screaming from their beds we were hardly early getting out into the field. It was late morning before we arrived at a busy but sunny North Warren and stopping first to view geese by the road quickly found the 4 feral Red-breasted Geese amongst a large flock of feral Barnacle Geese plus some wild Whitefronts. A Sparrowhawk cruised up the dyke in front of us.
Moving on we walked across the marsh to the viewing platform where a single Tundra Bean goose played hide-and -seek behind some reeds, along with a better showing single (what had it done wrong?) Pinkfoot and yet more Whitefronts. A Stonechat was using the wire fence leading away from the platform as a convenient foraging post.
Next stop was Minsmere where the car park was packed presumably by people out for a stroll in the country as my fears about equally packed hides proved unfounded. South Hide and West Hide (I refuse to call it the Wildlife Lookout) were closed due to flooding and East Hide was only accessible wearing wellies so we just did North Hide and Island Mere. Fortunately my target bird and favourite duck, Smew, and 4 of them at that, 2 males and 2 females, were showing well from North Hide. Water levels on the Scrape were extremely high and it was covered with ducks, mostly Teal and Wigeon, but waders were absent apart from Lapwing. Island Mere was surprisingly deserted with just a few Coots and Mute Swans on the water. Marsh Harriers, however, were much in evidence with a steady procession past the hide. At one point there were 7 in the air together almost within one binocular field of view. A couple of Cettis gave a brief half-hearted burst of song but that was about it. To end the day as we walked back a Bittern gave a brief but close flypast.

Looking back to the last 3 days of 2012, last weekend was dry during daylight hours but with fences to mend, sheep to move and a sheep shed to muck out I had to wait until Sunday before heading out to Haddiscoe Island. The morning started with another foray for the BTO Winter Thrush survey. Yet again there were no Redwings or Fieldfares, just Blackbirds and a single Song Thrush. The bonus bird was a Little Owl flushed from a wood pile. Reaching the Island in the early afternoon we were too late to see the Rough-legged Buzzard which had earlier been seen crossing the Waveney but we did have two distant views of the Great White Egret as it flew from one patch of reeds to another and back again, an (extended) patch tick for me. The Rough-leg was seen to fly over St Olaves today so I'm hoping it will do the decent thing and pay a visit to Thorpe Marshes. I wonder if staking out some road-kill rabbits will help?