Monday, 25 March 2013

Acle Cranes

I had a full hour for lunch today and, as I was working in Gorleston, took the opportunity to head along the Acle Straight to see the Cranes just north of Acle. As I drove along the Straight I was struck by how wintery the grazing marshes appeared. By now the marshes should have been showing the fresh, bright green flush of the grass springing back in to growth but everywhere looked a dull. barren green. The traditional grazing auctions take place today and tomorrow in St. Olaves and the graziers would be hoping to turn their cattle out on April 1st but as yet there is little for them to eat. The few summer migrants trickling back into the country must be having similar problems. Arriving at Acle Bridge there were just 2 of the 6-7 Cranes that had been there on show but they were relatively close to the road and gave excellent views as they fed unconcerned by the traffic thundering by.
We've had Cranes flying over our house on a 2 or 3 occasions. If they continue to increase maybe one day I'll see these stately birds stalking my marshes. My big ambition is to hear Corncrakes out here. There is lots of suitable habitat in the Yare Valley so just maybe some of the Nene Washes birds may stop here. One can but dream.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

New Arrivals

The birders amongst you will be expecting a post about Chiffchaffs or Blackcaps. Sorry, it's still winter here and if there are any Chiffchaffs out there they are keeping their heads down. So the new arrivals are this little guy who arrived on Friday night:

Fortunately for him and his twin brother his mother, the 10 year old flock matriarch Oddball, was expected to lamb and had been brought inside out of the icy wind. The other ewes are not so lucky and have to lamb outside so we'll be having to check them very frequently to get any other new births dried off and into an indoor mothering-up pen asap.

The other new arrivals were these guys:

We rear a few pigs every year and turn them in to sausages, chops and delicious air-dried hams (apologies to any vegetarian readers). I bought these from a typical fenland smallholding adjacent to Lakenheath Fen RSPB within view of the Golden Oriole wood. I had toyed with the idea of visiting the reserve in the same trip but the atrocious weather conditions, snow and wind, put paid to that idea. I commented on the owners proximity to the reserve as I arrived but a scowl from the smallholder warned me not to take this conversation any further. He went on to tell me how the presence of the reserve had led to the refusal of planning permission to build a house on his farm on the grounds that it would disturb Stone Curlews, and this had been followed by the crushing of the residential caravan he had lived in for 9 years only a few days before. He was essentially homeless. Looking around the scrubby, muddy site with it's collection of ramshackle mobile homes used as animal housing (and hence legal), abandoned vehicles, trailers and pack of free-range dogs this was hardly a Stone Curlew habitat. I wonder if "stone curlew" was code for something rarer that would be more prone to disturbance.

On to the birds, the only excitement has been the first pair of Bullfinches for the year in the garden. Otherwise it's just the usual suspects for me, although husband had a Peregrine fly virtually over the house during the week.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Patchwork challenge scores February

Amazingly I'm still top of the Inland East Anglia mini-league and astoundingly second in the comparative scores National league. It really can't last. A quick count up gives me only another 24 species I can be confident of seeing for the rest of the year, which would give me a final score just over 100%, and another 14 or so species which are possibles ie I've seen them 2 or 3 times on the patch in the last 16 years. I really could do with digging that scrape!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Winter continues

It's been a quiet week. With winter visitors leaving and the first hardy summer migrants only just starting to trickle in, mid-March usually is quiet but this mid-March feels particularly so. Winter still seems to have a firm grip on the weather. The snowdrops in the garden are still in full bloom and the daffodils have barely reached the bud stage. The Rooks are one of the few signs that spring is coming as most have changed from gathering sticks to arriving at their nests with beakfuls of nest lining instead, and I found the first Moorhen nest of the year yesterday. During a brief sunny spell in the week I also heard the distinctive calls of displaying Marsh Harriers.
Lambing starts again on Friday so yesterday was spent getting the lambing shed ready. There were big round hay bales to be man-handled and then the accumulated muck of housing the sheared show sheep for 4 weeks had to be forked out by hand leaving little time or energy for birding. The weather was horrible anyway. The only highlights(?) of a quick sprint round our marshes were an increase in Greylags from one pair to two and a flock of 50 Siskin in the wood.
Today was a little better. This morning I watched from the back door 2 Buzzards displaying, their calls once evocative of the South West now ringing out across the far East. There are plenty of small woods in the immediate vicinity for them to breed in so fingers-crossed. The Reed Bunting flock visiting the feeders increased to about 7, mostly males in fine breeding plumage.
This afternoon I took the dog and headed out on foot to parts of Thorpe Marshes I usually only scan from the house. A distant Starling flock suddenly took flight, started doing the classic morphing shapes in the sky, a bewitching sight, and then promptly vanished. 20 minutes later I found a fine adult male Peregrine eating something dark on the ground in the area the Starlings had been, presumably the reason for their display. Other than that it was pretty quiet, just the usual Marsh Harriers, Buzzards and Barn Owls plus a scattering of Chinese Water Deer.
I suppose the most spectacular sight of the week has to be the Rooks (and their Jackdaw accomplices) again. On Friday at dusk with a strong blustery wind the entire flock of several hundred black corvids suddenly erupted from the wood, twisting and tumbling in a wild display under an ominous darkening sky before almost as suddenly plunging back into the wood to roost. It just shows that common birds can sometimes be as excitingas the rare ones (paarticularly when rare ones are thin on the ground!).

Monday, 11 March 2013

Winter returns

The weather this weekend was hardly conducive to encourage people out birding. It rained heavily all of Friday night and on into Saturday morning. Unfortunately having livestock means that staying in the dry in a cosy warm bed is not an option for me particularly at this time of year with ewes and lambs to feed. Somebody also had to get out to check the small group of ewes on the far marshes and with husband sticking resolutely to the bed option I headed off into the wet.
There were new pools of water everywhere and the dykes were full to the brim. Two Grey Herons stood disconsolately by one of them. A soggy, sulky looking Marsh Harrier sitting on the ground amongst the rushes allowed a very close approach before it took reluctantly to the air. Looking unconcerned about the weather however was a flock of about 100 Teal enjoying the new feeding opportunities provided by the rain.
In the afternoon we headed en famille to Ipswich where younger daughter was swimming 50m Freestyle in the County Championships. At least it was warm in the Crown Pools. After a brief visit to the in-laws we headed for home but by now the rain had turned to snow and there was also flooding to contend with. By the time we got home the bottle-fed lambs were very hungry and very cross.
Much of the snow had melted by Sunday morning and the marshes were even wetter, the dykes now overflowing. A strong bitter easterly wind driving icy particles into your face made visiting the sheep even more unpleasant but it had to be done. A pair of Greylags that seem to have taken up residence on our marshes couldn't be bothered to fly and just waddled away as I approached. A very pale Buzzard sat on a gate post caused a moment of excitement but was just a Common. Not surprisingly it was otherwise very quiet.
The afternoon was spent in the much more pleasurable pursuit of 'lounge birding' ie sitting by a roaring log fire watching what came to the bird feeders viewable from the lounge window. A party of at least 5 Reed Buntings, the majority male, seemed to be a permanent feature and single Coal and Marsh tits also put in an appearance along with a smart male Great Spotted Woodpecker. A quick nip out through the garden to top up the lambs creep feeder also gave me excellent views of a Treecreeper creeping up a Silver Birch in a more sheltered part of the garden.
In the evening I went to see Chris Packham delivering his Wild Night Out talk at the UEA in Norwich. He was an excellent speaker delivering a talk that had the audience enthralled with beautiful photographs and a blend of humour, stories and facts spiced up with some controversial (to many) ideas. Well worth going to see if you get the opportunity.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

More Bewicks

After my efforts to find Bewicks Swan on Sunday I was out in the garden this afternoon when a flock of about 30 flew calling up the valley past the house. I think my tactics for the summer during wader passage will be extended periods of time on the sun lounger on the patio, glass of wine in hand. Who knows what I might see?!
Oh, and I had a 3rd pair of Grey Partridges, this time on Patch, driving to work on Monday morning.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Rough-legged Buzzard shows well!

News of Bewicks Swans at Reedham Marshes had me pounding the Haddiscoe New Cut late morning in search of another Patchwork tick after being assured by my husband that they would be viewable from the end of the Cut although a better view would be had 400 yards further along the river wall. I pointed out that this was outside the Patch.
Things seemed a little quiet at first with just a couple of Little Egrets and a few ducks. A haze made views up the island towards where the Rough-leg usually hangs out appalling. Reaching the end of the New Cut, a 2.5 mile walk from the bridge, there was no sign of Reedham marshes let alone any Bewicks Swans and I had to walk a good deal further than 400 yards to get a view. The Bewicks had moved on so I walked a little further to a corner of the river wall to get a view up the Island. Scanning across there I couldn't see the Rough-leg but in the distance I spotted what appeared to be 3 Bewicks Swans. Just as I was about to turn back a raptor flying towards me caught my eye and I was treated to a fly-past by a Rough-legged Buzzard. It flew towards and then over the New Cut  out on to Thurlton Marshes then dropped out of sight below the level of the embankment.
My walk back to the Cut was a little faster than my walk out. Scanning Thurlton Marshes there was no sign of the Rough-leg but there was a superb male Peregrine sat on a gate. Approaching Marsh Farm I checked out the swans again and with slightly better views confirmed them as Bewicks. At that moment the Rough-leg reappeared flying back over the New Cut barely 100yards away and glided back out onto the marsh to land on a gate just 300yards away. Of course I had come without my camera! I savoured my best views of the year, looked again at the Bewicks and turned back to the buzzard to find it had moved on. The walk back to the car felt much easier and as a bonus the sun came out.
Yesterday afternoon I did another Winter Thrushes survey walk. Thrushes seemed to have melted away from my 1km square with just 5 Blackbirds and 5 Fieldfares on the entire route. Ironically I saw my biggest flock  of thrushes of all my surveys, 70 Fieldfares, feeding in maize stubble just outside my square so I can't count them. A bonus bird was a Woodcock flushed from the edge of a wood. After doing my survey I went to buy sheep feed from a local farmer at Norton Subcourse and had a pair of Grey Partridges crossing the road in front of me. This morning when I went to feed the ewes at Thurlton I saw a second pair just opposite the gate to the field. There seems to be a mini population explosion in the area.

Saturday, 2 March 2013


The rooks are back in residence! After several false starts during the week, there was a mass arival of rooks at 7am this morning and much stick carrying activity ensued. Back from work at lunchtime I was disappointed to find the rookery empty but by mid-afternoon it was busy again. Rooks have stayed right up until dusk for most of the week but then moved on. Tonight when I took the bottle-fed lambs their late feed at 10.30pm the quiet of the night was at long last pleasantly disturbed by the soft cawing of roosting rooks.