Saturday, 27 April 2013

Subalpine Warbler and Rosy Starling

Subalpine Warblers and me don't seem to go well together. I saw my first one in 1981, one of my first real rarities, when a spring male was pulled out of a net on Bardsey. It took me another 29 years and several attempts before I saw another one, this time a female/immature bird on Scilly in 2010. News that the fine male at Landguard was showing well and an Eastern to boot saw me heading down the A12 this afternoon after a morning at work. Nearing Ipswich the skies darkened, the heavens opened and gloom descended on me. Surely a usually skulky Sylvia was never going to show well in conditions like this? Thankfully the rain stopped close to Felixstowe and we headed out on to the common much more hopefully. I needn't have worried. Having located the small group of birders with the bird it immediately flew in to a small patch of brambles in front of us and popped in to view.
It was feeding very actively moving from one patch of scrub to the next usually on the outside of the bush rather than the middle and sometimes on the ground. It continued to show almost continuously, seemingly utterly oblivious to people and the machine gunning of shutters, giving ridiculously good views. At times it came too close for the long lens to focus on! Here's a photo of it next to a photographer:

I even managed what I think are some decent shots with my little Panasonic camera when it decided to pose only about 8 feet away from me just when I thought it couldn't show any better and I was thinking of heading back to the car.

A stunning bird I think you'll have to agree!

We headed home with a small diversion to Orford for the Rosy Starling. This bird was less obliging to start with as we had to wait about 20 minutes before it appeared flying from behind someones house in to a tree. It did the usual Rosy Starling thing of blobbing about on a roof or aerial with the occasional foray to a tree or hedge before we left it. Although not pink it was in better plumage than the usual autumn birds and in the sunlight it did at least have a rosy beak. Being somewhat further away than the Subalpine I left my husband to take the photos with his better camera:

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Cranes 0, Black Redstart 1

Those of you with pagers doing Patchwork Challenge are probably expecting me to announce a 6-point bird with 2 Cranes at Thorpe Marshes, Haddiscoe being reported this afternoon. Unfortunately for me I wasn't the finder, it was in fact my husband and I was at work - damn it. It's less than a month that I posted how one day I would love to see Cranes stalking the marshes here and they have to go and do it when I'm not here!
Still I raced home from work (not for the Cranes, they were long gone) for my elder daughter's parent teacher evening. Walking in to the kitchen younger daughter announced that "Daddy was upstairs watching a bird". This had to be something good as we were supposed to be rushing out the door as soon as I got home. Tracking him down to her bedroom I found him photographing a Black Redstart sat on the roof of our outbuildings. This was a great consolation being a rarer bird here than Crane although scoring only 2 points on Patchwork Challenges score sheet. It was still here when we got back from school, sitting on the roof of our house catching insects attracted to the warmth of the clay tiles. Here are 2 photos of it taken by my husband, one in overcast conditions, the other in sunlight. Its amazing how its colour changes.

It was a beautiful still, warm evening so I took the dog for a walk along the New Cut in the vague but not unreasonable hope that maybe the Cranes had gone down on Haddiscoe Island. Haddiscoe Island was transformed from the bleak, barren, windswept landscape of the winter. For starters I didn't feel like Scott of the Antarctic and it was in fact more reminiscent of the plains of Africa with large grazing mammals (cattle in this case) scattered across the flat marshes in loose herds as far as the eye could see. Sedge Warblers were belting out their jumbled songs from the reeds in the soke dykes along the Cut and Redshanks, Oystercatchers and Lapwings were displaying noisily. There was no sign of the Cranes but it was still a pleasant way to while away an hour and the dog enjoyed it too.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Patchwork century and a garden rarity

This morning I reached my Patchwork challenge century in terms of number of species when a Yellow Wagtail flew over the marshes as I walked round. Otherwise it was pretty quiet apart from a garden rarity turning up on the feeders. Don't get too excited! The rarity was a male House Sparrow. Despite having 11 feeders at various locations in the garden, House Sparrows turn up about once a year. I think we've had more Tree Sparrows in the garden. It's also very rare to get Starlings in the garden despite there being large flocks out on the marshes in the winter.
Sadly, I found a dead Barn Owl when I walked in our alder wood although I did hear one calling last night some distance from where I saw the one yesterday morning.
One last mystery, we've been getting up to a dozen Reed Buntings on the feeders but they are nearly all male. Why so few females? Even now we see male Reed Buntings fly in off the marsh from some considerable distance, have a feed and then return to their territories. You would think the females would be keen to build themselves up for egg-laying but may be they need invertebrate food?

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Birding with a bucket

It was a beautiful spring morning. After a tiring week I decided to stay close to home today and concentrate on patch birding. The sheep are all turned out on the marsh apart from a few stragglers enjoying the flush of grass that is at last starting to grow. I'm still feeding the rams however as they're still a long way off show condition so set off for an amble around the marshes with a bucket in hand. I expected the rams to meet me at the first gate where I would be able to abandon the bucket but it wasn't until I was a quarter of the way round that they spotted me. The bucket would just have to come with me.
Birding with a bucket turned out to be quite easy. The empty bucket just hooks over your arm when you use your bins. It also seemed to be a lucky charm when my first Barn Owl for several weeks came in to view and then my first burst of Cetti's song since January. Whitethroats were singing in a scrubby corner too and Marsh Harriers seemed to fill the sky.
Everything was going well until I entered Colin's field. Colin is a very large, normally docile, Romney ram to whom buckets mean tasty sheep nuts. He spotted me halfway across his field and raced towards me. I showed him the bucket was empty by letting him stick his head in it but this wasn't good enough for Colin. I had a bucket, therefore I must have food. I escaped being butted by walking across the field leading him with his head in the bucket but this only worked for a short while. He started to get more belligerent so reaching the corner of the field I dropped the bucket, nipped over the fence to the neighbours and watched Marsh Harriers for a while hoping he would get bored and wander off. Feeling it was safe to return I picked up the bucket and started to set off but looked back in time to see Colin taking a step back, pawing the ground and dropping his head about to charge. Facing 120kg of angry Romney ram I felt like a matador in a bull ring but with no cape or picador to come to my rescue. My life flashed briefly before my eyes. Somehow I managed to deflect the charge, threw the bucket away from me to distract him and escaped a severe bruising. The only way I could get out of the field with the bucket was to kick it along the ground in front of me.

                                                    Colin, towering over his ladies

Safely back in the garden, the Cowslips in our wildflower meadow are coming in to bloom.

Our swallows were enjoying the sunshine and also providing a sparrowhawk early warning system for the other garden birds, their alarm calls ringing out as a Sparrowhawk whooshed through.

I decided to investigate the bushes from where the Cetti's had been singing so walked along a track that I've never been down that went through some trees, then bushes before opening out on to the marshes next to ours. A Redpoll coming down to drink in a dyke running through the trees was a surprise and there was a very showy Whitethroat actively feeding and singing in the hedgerow. The Cetti's turned out to be singing from yet another path bordering some shooting ponds just across a small field but the best bird here was a singing Willow Warbler. Surprisingly I get only 1 or 2 records of Willow Warbler a year on the patch as they pass through in spring so it was a good bird to get. With persistence I managed to see the Cetti's Warbler for once and also had brief views of a Grass Snake slithering into cover. There was also a Brimstone butterfly and several Peacocks.
The day ended with Patch year tick no 99 with a distant Feral Pigeon

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Red-rumped Swallow

It was another very busy morning at work ending with 2 hours intense concentration removing a very deep, potentially malignant tumour from a dog's backside. Hence when Tweets started pouring in to my mobile phone I thought there was no better place for a birder to relax than at the local sewage works. I reached the lake at Kessingland Sewage Works at about 3.10pm and the Red-rumped Swallow found by Carl Buttle immediately flew past in to view before flying off. I was assured it had been doing this regularly and after a short wait it returned for another fly-past. It did this repeatedly sometimes disappearing for long periods at a time before returning, either coming in over the lake or cruising high in the sky. With numerous other hirundines, Sand Martins, House Martins and Swallows, doing the same thing it was a case of constantly checking everything with bins to find it.
In its absence there were the songs of newly arrived Sedge and Willow Warblers to enjoy, my first of the year. After standing through one heavy but brief shower I made a move for home as a bigger blacker cloud appeared on the horizon and made it back to the car just as a torrential rain shower hit.
Back home, our regular Swallows appear to have returned with 2 sitting on the wires over our parking area. I hope they have more success than last year when the poor weather meant that the 2 pairs we have managed only one brood a-piece.
In the evening I went looking for Moorhen nests in the dykes close to the house. I had previously found only one which had been started in the middle of March then seemingly abandoned, only for me to find it had 4 eggs in this morning. I had looked for nests at the weekend and found no others but today found three more within 100m of each other, one with 2 eggs in. The Moorhens have suddenly been very busy!

As a complete aside whilst typing this I managed to spill coffee over the keyboard and under the mouse. After cleaning up the keyboard works fine but the mouse works in reverse i.e. the cursor moves up when I move the mouse down, and left when I move the mouse right. Any one any ideas?

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Evening marsh walk

After another frantic day at work (Lunch-break? What's a lunch-break?) I decided a relaxing amble around the marshes in the beautiful evening sunshine was definitely called for. This morning, as I was doing the feeding rounds of sheep and pigs, a Brambling wheezing in trees near the back door had started the day off well. I was hoping for something new so I squelched around the neighbours marsh. The shallow pools among thick rush clumps look ideal for garganey or a passage wader but I drew a blank on new birds, finding just a pair each of Shoveler, Teal, Mallard and Coot. I moved on flushing a couple of Snipe from one of the foot drains on our marshes and alarmed a hare which made its escape via one of the liggers across the dykes. Then I noticed a Lapwing getting agitated with something. Lifting my bins I found the object of its ire was a Peregrine circling low over the marsh. It was fascinating to watch the Lapwing persistently dive-bombing the larger falcon, at one stage being briefly joined by a Marsh Harrier, until the Peregrine moved on eastwards up the valley. I wonder if this is one of the Lowestoft birds?
One bird noticeably absent at the moment is Barn Owl. Barn Owls are almost 99% guaranteed here in the evening but I haven't seen one for at least 2 weeks and the Barn owls usual nest hole is being prospected by Jackdaws. Sadly I think they have finally succumbed to the cold windy conditions of the late spring having survived the earlier snows of winter. I hope I'm wrong.
On the last leg of my walk coming back past the rams paddock I spotted 4 Redwings feeding on the short grass here. I had hoped for Ring Ouzel as there seem to be have been a lot going through locally in the last day or two but no luck so far.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Red-flanked Bluetail, owls amd thrushes

A great day's birding started slowly this morning. I was getting Tweets about lots of thrushes in the Lowestoft area but my walk around the marshes produced just a single Redwing. Chiffchaffs and Blackcap were singing but no other migrants were in evidence. I took a bit of time to count the nests in our rookery and came to a total of approx 135, up on the previous 2 years counts of 120 plus there is a small satellite rookery of 21 nests just outside our boundary.
I was tryng to decide where to go for an afternoons birding when news came through on RBA of a Red-flanked Bluetail at Horsey so my mind was quickly made up. Leaving home I had my first Swallow of the year just a mile from home in Haddiscoe. Reaching Horsey I parked on the access track and walking along this had several Chiffchaffs and more Swallows. The site of the Bluetail was immediately obvious by the small crowd of birders perched on top of a ridge overlooking a small copse of open bushes with a clump of gorse at one end. Remembering the near mythical status this bird used to have it was a surprise to be sitting in a group of just 20 or so birders in such a well-populated birding county as Norfolk but it did make the experience all the more enjoyable. The Bluetail showed very well within minutes of my arrival working its way along the front of the bushes in full view much of the time. I even managed a photo (of sorts) of it.

Shortly after it moved in to a denser clump of bushes and pine trees but still showed well with patience. Having had my fill I moved on to Winterton for 2 more Long-eared Owls, one of which showed well in a large holly bush when the wind was blowing enough to move the obscuring branch away from in front of it.

There were more Swallows here and a single House Martin flew over at the owl. As I walked back to the car 2 Sand Martins flew past. I can't remember ever having a day when I've year-ticked all 3 common hirundines on the same day.
With the temperature now very pleasant indeed I decided to head home and stake out the marshes from the patio to see what might go by. Settling myself down in the sun with a cup of tea and a piece of cake, I soon had the first Swallows for the patch, closely followed by a flock of about 100 Redwings and Fieldfares. Another patch year tick followed in the shape of that well-known summer visitor, Shoveler, when a pair was flushed by a Marsh Harrier. Like Coot, Shoveler arrive on the marshes to breed but depart by the end of summer. A pair of Gadwall also put in an appearance. Shortly after a House Martin flew by, making 3 Patchwork year ticks in about 45 minutes. As the early evening wore on small groups of thrushes continued to move through following the edge of the valley towards Lowestoft.
Tweets started coming through describing the build up of Redwings at Corton on the coast and when the phrase "truly astounding" was used, I decided to go and look for myself. I arrived at dusk and joined an assorted collection of Lowestoft Lizards watching the spectacle. I had missed the main peak but there were still flocks of hundreds of Redwings and Fieldfares going over all the time, their calls filling the sky, now all heading out to sea. Someone picked out an owl almost certainly a Long-eared heading out with them and as darkness began to fall anther owl flew into the hedgerow in front of us, paused briefly before it too flew up, gained height over the land and joined the movement eastwards. A truly magical experience!

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Spring's here I think

It was a superb morning today, bright sunshine, no wind and mild for once. Up early as usual at the moment to check and feed the sheep I reached our main gate and noticed a grey bird creeping through the ivy opposite. Putting down my buckets and lifting my bins (always carried when I'm outside especially at this time of year) the shining black cap was obvious, my first Blackcap of 2013. At the same time I became aware of a strange song, a bit like a mad Goldfimch with a bit of thrush thrown in. Scanning the tops of the oak trees from whence came the sound I found a small group of Redwings. The singing continued for a couple of minutes until the flock of 12 birds took flight and headed east. Suddenly there were Redwings all around me calling and flying from tree to tree plus a Fieldfare and briefly it felt like October. The thrushes moved on and a singing Chiffchaff restored the seasons to their proper order.

After breakfast I headed off around the marshes in the hope of some more new summer migrants. Marsh Harriers and a Sparrowhawk were displaying, Skylarks and Reed Buntings singing but there were no new migrants. There was however a new summer visitor and Patchwork tick in the shape of 3 Coot on one of the pools. Coot breed here but disappear in the late summer only returning in spring.
Returning back to the house I got my first views of Chiffchaff after only hearing them before amd a butter yellow Brimstone butterfly flew through the garden.

The afternoon was spent weaning the show lambs, now 14 weeks old, and shearing the 2 ewes (Mary and Mildred) which will be my entries in the "aged ewe" classes in the upcoming summer shows. I have a professional shearer do the shearlings (1 year old sheep) and ram in February but the older ewes have to be sheared after the 1st April as they have young lambs to rear first. As it's not worth getting the shearer back just for 2 sheep I do them myself. It takes me about 1/2 hour per sheep, rather than the 2 minutes the professionals take and although I do them standing up rather than turning them over it still makes my back ache. They don't look too bad when I've finished although I do have to hand finish them to get all the little bits of wool off that I've missed with the electric clippers.

We found this unfortunate creature, a Long-eared Bat, on the floor of one of our sheds. I suspect it woke from an overlong hibernation too weak to fly and find food, if there were any insects to find.

Sadly it died yet another casualty of the cold, late spring despite trying to rehydrate it and give it and energy boost with glucose solution. The photo was taken post-mortem so it wasn't put under any unnecessary stress if you were wondering.

Checking the sheep after dark this evening there were yet more Redwings going over, their thin, high calls taking me back to autumn again.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Signs of spring at last

After yesterdays relative warmth the temperature plummeted 18C overnight to -7C bringing a heavy frost. Despite this as I checked the sheep just after dawn this morning a Chiffchaff was quietly chiffchaffing in the oak trees by the ewe's field, my first of the year. The rising sun quickly dissipated the chill and a mid-morning walk around the marsh was very pleasant. Reed Buntings had started to sing from the tops of reeds, the Marsh Harriers were displaying and a small group of 3 Chinese Water Deer allowed a close approach before scarpering across the marshes. I also flushed 4 Snipe and Lapwing seemed to be displaying.
News of a small raptor passage had me scanning the marshes again from the patio at lunch and this time I was rewarded with a Red Kite, its twisting red tail making it stand out from the seemingly innumerable soaring Marsh Harriers at some distance.
Further evidence of spring came in the shape of first a Peacock butterfly in the orchard and then a Small Tortoiseshell flying across the ram's field.
With the Reed Buntings seemingly starting to move out from the garden on to the marshes, I decided to have a go at photographing them around the bird feeders before they left, using my daughters old Wendy House as a hide. The decrepit state of this little timber shed became all too obvious when I opened its window and the bottom of the window frame fell off leaving me with no means of propping the window open. Every time birds started to come to the feeders the wind would slam the window shut scaring everything away. I eventually got a few photos but only after my feet had gone to sleep in the cramped conditions.

OK, so they're all common birds but Long-tailed Tits are cute and the Blue Tit looked particularly bright in the spring sunshine.

And finally, the primroses have at long last burst in to flower.

Saturday, 6 April 2013


At long last some pleasant weather arrived today. The sun was out and the wind although still easterly had dropped to a gentle breeze. It was time to start getting some of the ewes and their young lambs turned out on to the marsh. As this involves getting the ewes and lambs through the group of as yet unlambed ewes, each little family has to be moved individually by picking up the lambs inside the pen and carrying them across the field with the anxious mother following on behind, or trying to trip me up if she's a bolshie type. I was just about to pick up my third set of lambs when I had a distinctive hard "chup-chup" and looking up I saw 6 chunky finches with prominent bills and obviously forked tails tanking towards me across the field. Crossbills, my second record for the patch and a Patchwork tick! They rocketed by and carried on northwards at great speed.
Sheep done, it was pleasant enough to sit out on the patio for lunch for the first time this year. This coincided with news of a White-tailed Eagle over Burgh Castle only 6 miles away so I ate lunch, a delicious Samphire Pork Pie and our own home-produced air-dried ham, scanning the skies just in case the eagle should drift this way. Sadly of the eagle there was no sign but the warmth brought 6 Marsh Harriers into the air, 2 Buzzards, a Sparrowhawk and 2 Kestrels, a Green Woodpecker flew through the garden and the Reed Buntings ignored my presence and fed greedily on the patio feeder. Not bad at all!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Long overdue Long-eared Owl

News of a Long-eared Owl showing well saw me leaving work promptly at 6.30 and driving in the opposite direction from home to Bure Park just minutes away. Thank goodness the clocks have gone forwards, a week ago birding in the evening would have been impossible. The forecast sunshine had failed to materialise and the strong bitter easterly wind was sweeping across the park .It felt like December rather than April. Sensibly, the Long-eared Owl had chosen to roost on the leeward side of a small island in the middle of the little lake, out of the wind and with a watery barrier preventing disturbance by any one who might want to get too close as normally seems to happen with these birds. The owl seemed totally unperturbed by the presence of a small group of appreciative birders and didn't even bother to open its eyes. Embarrassingly, this is the first Long-eared Owl I've seen since 1994! I had forgotten to put the battery back in my camera so you are spared any of my photos today.
A pair of Garganey also gave excellent views on the same lake bringing my total number of summer migrants to 4 (birds that is, not species). Things must change soon especially with news that the Cuckoos are on their way back here

Tuesday, 2 April 2013


After Friday's horrors it was good to get some healthy lambs born especially an Easter set of twins on Easter Sunday morning. By late morning things looked quiet in the lambing field so I was happy to go to Minsmere for the afternoon. A walk around the scrape gave us 4 Smew including a splendid drake, one of my favourite ducks and, after patiently waiting for a likely candidate to wake up, a 3w Caspian Gull. It was pleasant afternoon with warmth in the sun and good numbers of Avocets and a Ruff starting to develop a white ruff hinted at spring but there were still no Chiffchaffs or Blackcaps singing in the woods. However at Island Mere hide I finally caught up with my first summer migrants of 2013, a pair of Garganey showing superbly well right in front of the hide.

At this point a small blizzard came through and the temperature plummeted several degrees. Winter had fought back.

Back home a Romney ewe had produced another set of twins but with a twist. One of the lambs was inexplicably black or to be more precise a smoky body with pitch black extremities. Romneys are always white and the Southdown sire was white too. Here she is:

She'll probably get a name and end up in the breeding flock if she stays this colour.

Yesterday was uneventful apart from a Patch year tick in the form of 2 Oystercatchers flying over the house putting me on 89 species for the Patch this year. This morning I flushed a Woodcock from the bottom of the vegetable garden, a surprise this late in the year. I'm still waiting for the first summer migrant here.

Monday, 1 April 2013

The long Good Friday

Good Friday got off to a bad start. At quarter past midnight I was phoning a vet to assist a ewe who had a very dead lamb stuck tight, which try as I might I couldn't deliver. ( Sensitive readers please skip to the next paragraph.) The lamb had a massive head and after much pulling during which a front leg came off, the vet had to resort to crushing the lambs skull before he could get the lamb out and  also its dead twin behind. A sad result but at least the ewe was going to be alright, if a little bruised for a few days. The vet finally left at 1.45am. Further angst followed when I went out at 6am to find a ewe who had lambed another dead lamb. This time it looked like the membranes hadn't cleared from the lambs mouth and it had been unable to breathe when it tried to take ir's first breath.

Feeling pretty low I walked around the marshes checking the state of the ground (drying out) and the state of the grass (still not growing) as I need to start turning stock out in a few days. Walking across one of our furthest marshes I flushed a Short-eared Owl from the edge of one of the dykes, the first on these marshes all winter. I followed it as it quartered gracefullyacross a field then disappeared behind some reeds. It flushed 7 Snipe as it did so. Scanning across to try and find it again a smart male Hen Harrier flew across my field of view. Things were looking up.
In the afternoon we went to Sea Palling with friends who were staying the weekend. We stopped just north of Brograve farm and quickly located 16 Common Cranes feeding with a flock of sheep. On stepping out of the car our friends quickly discovered how cold the Norfolk coast could be in a brisk easterly wind so instead of heading for the beach we scanned several gull flocks in fields by the road hoping for a Glaucous Gull from the relative comfort of the car. Having no luck we had no choice but to head for the exposed beach. We met several birders coming away who had seen 3 of the beasts but as we set foot on the sea wall we saw a flock of large gulls heading off in to the distance having been flushed by dog walkers. We scanned the remaining gulls repeatedly with no success so walked further down the beach to check more distant flocks. At this point it started snowing. One of our group seemed to be heading for hypothermia but luckily a 1st winter Glaucous Gull appeared over the sea wall and drifted right over our heads to land on the beach warming everyone up. After enjoying the bird a rapid retreat was beaten to the relative warmth of the car and home where all was peaceful in the lambing field.

There's a Glaucous Gull in this picture - honest!