Sunday, 30 June 2013

Marsh Harrier tagging and Swallowtails

It has been a frantically busy 10 days at home, work and the Royal Norfolk Show so it was a relief when the weekend arrived. There was still lots to do, lambs to vaccinate, the vegetable garden had virtually disappeared under a lush forest of weeds and the inside of the house had barely seen a cleaning implement in the last two weeks but at least there were no deadlines to meet, so a relaxed weekend was in prospect.
The weekend got off to a good start with the Turtle Dove giving a sustained purring performance from a telephone wire by the sheep paddock.

A Hobby was the star bird on a walk across the marshes but the superstar of the day was a Little Owl which hurtled across the patio to perch on top of our birdfeeder pole as dusk fell! Dragonflies were much more evident with Norfolk Hawkers at the end of the garden and a Hairy out on the marsh.

This morning dawned bright and sunny and it was at last hot enough to get the parasol out of the shed and set up on the patio. Hopefully I'll be able to make use of it and the barbecue in the coming weeks. However there were more interesting things to be done than lounging on the patio.
Today two ringers from the BTO/Hawk and Owl Trust came to wing-tag Marsh Harrier chicks in the two nests we had located from the feeding activities of the adult birds. The project aims to track the movements of individual Marsh Harriers within the UK and beyond by marking young birds with individually lettered/numbered green wing tags. The first brood had just about fledged so the 5 youngsters had spread themselves along the reed bed. Two were captured and after weighing, measuring to determine sex (its all down to the size of their feet) and ringing them, their wing tags were applied. The tagging process looked completely painless to my professional eye I'm pleased to report. This is the first bird we did, a young male:

Followed by his sister DS:

The second brood had much younger chicks about 10-14 days from fledging so all 5 of these were easily bagged. Remarkably the two nests were only about 20m apart and the size and even weights of both broods suggested that their parents were having no problems finding food for them. It was quite something sitting in a reed bed surrounded by baby Marsh Harriers albeit each safely tucked up in an old pillow case.
This is a much downier DX:

And one of its siblings D3:

The other birds are DT, DV and DZ. The chicks were returned to their nest and provisioned with a dead squirrel and a dead mole (provided by my cat) for their trouble. We shall look out to see if any of these birds return in future years. The link for reporting sightings of tagged Marsh Harriers is here.

With the sun shining and the temperature rising I headed to Strumpshaw in search of Swallowtails. I drew a blank at a favoured haunt, the cottage garden along Tinkers Lane, although there were at least good numbers of Small Tortoiseshells. However my luck was in when I walked along the trail through the fen. A single Swallowtail flashed past me and retracing my steps to the Fen boardwalk I had reasonable flight views of one. Walking further along Lackford Run I flushed unexpectedly another from the grassy path in front of me. It fluttered briefly around my head then settled on a bush close-by giving me excellent views of this most exotic of British butterflies, probably my best views ever.

There were also good numbers of Norfolk Hawkers and Black-tailed Skimmers but bird-wise it was rather quiet.
Back at home, on what was for once a warm summer evening, the Turtle Dove was purring away once more.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Hawk-moths galore!

The warm, still conditions and overcast skies looked ideal for moth-trapping last night so the trap went out as dusk fell only to come in again at 2am as rain threatened. It wasn't until this evening that we were able to investigate its contents and it was immediately obvious that we had a good catch with 2 Lime Hawk-moths and 2 Elephant Hawk-moths sitting in full view on top of the egg boxes. Delving deeper into the trap revealed more and more moths of a large variety of species including Alder Moth and Alder Kitten, Oblique Carpet, Ghost Moth and Scorched Wing, in total about 100 moths of nearly 50 species. However it was the Hawk-moths that stole the show with no fewer than 15 of 5 different species. One, a Pine Hawk-moth, was new for the garden.

            From left to right we have Poplar, Eyed, Elephant, Pine and Lime Hawk-moths

Hawk-moths are spectacular creatures, big, bold and in some cases as brightly coloured as any butterfly. They also seem very placid and will happily perch on your finger rather than flit away like many other moths. My youngest daughter is fascinated by them, unlike birds in which she has little interest.

This is Eyed Hawk-moth just showing the "eyes" which it flashes to scare off potential predators.

Pine Hawk-moth, the local rarity

And finally, a close-up of an Elephant Hawk-moth showing off the vivid pink of its underside.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Evening stroll

After the excitement of the weekend it was a peaceful evening here. The persistent wind of the last few months had finally dropped to nothing for once so after an afternoon washing sheep again (it's the Norfolk Show next week) there was time for an amble around the marsh. Sedge Warblers were taking advantage of the stillness to sing from the tops of reed stems and Reed Buntings seemed to be perched up everywhere uttering their monotonous song. To my surprise a Whimbrel flew low over the marsh, the first of the year and a Snipe on the neighbours marsh was the first for a while. It was also good to see that the persistent belligerent behaviour by the Lapwings mobbing Crows and Marsh Harriers had paid off so far when I saw 2 well-grown chicks scuttling amongst the rushes.
There were a good few damselflies on the wing, probably Azure and there was also a 4-Spot Chaser. My husband saw the first Norfolk Hawker of the year this morning. I had no luck tonight but at least things seem to be getting going at last.
The Water Voles were also active again in the dyke at the bottom of the garden and the first Common Spotted Orchids were flowering in our orchard.
As dusk fell and a pair of bats chased each other back and forth above the patio, mist began to roll out of the dykes and across the marshes giving an atmospheric end to the evening.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Pacific Swift

On Friday night it looked like it was going to be a quiet weekend. There had been little on the pager for East Anglia during the week and the south-westerly winds did not promise much. That all changed with the Mega alert at 10.20 on Saturday morning. I had seen the 1993 Cley Pacific Swift so I had no need to panic but with news that it was lingering, the fact it was only 1 1/4 hours drive away and it was a fantastic bird I decided to make the trip south. First I  walked the marshes to check the sheep and newly arrived cows and was delayed when I had to hunt out a missing cow and call her owner when I found her in the long grass trying to calve. It was now 12.05 and I had arranged to get my daughter to a pre-flute exam rehearsal in Norwich at 5.30pm, which would mean leaving home at 4.50. Doing a quick sum in my head I worked out I could make it there and back in time if everything went to plan. My husband nobly volunteered to stay behind and take her if my mission failed.
It was a less stressful drive than for the Cley bird but the closer  to Trimley I got the higher my adrenaline started to rise. There was parking chaos when I arrived at Cordys Lane so I parked up just past the railway crossing and set off at a brisk pace on the long walk to the reserve. The sun was shining but ominous dark clouds were gathering distantly and knowing swifts often move in front of bad weather made the walk that little bit more anxious. There was a steady stream of birders leaving the site with encouraging words. There were many familiar faces but there was no time to stop for a chat and a brief hello had to suffice.
I eventually arrived at what was a surprisingly small group of birders lined up on the river wall and got on to the Swift almost immediately. It was giving excellent views feeding back and forth over a surprisingly small section of the lagoon in front of us all and made the long walk very worthwhile indeed.
Sticking to schedule I turned for home. The walk back was a little more relaxed but the clouds were getting blacker and it started to rain on the last stretch as I approached the first of the parked cars. I made it back to mine just as the deluge hit grateful I wasn't one of those making the walk out. I still had a deadline to meet and the spray on the A14 and A12 made the first part of the drive home a little hazardous. However I made it home at 4.47, threw my daughter in the car and made it to the rehearsal dead on time - phew!
Today was much more peaceful. I took the girls and our dog to Strutt your Mutt at Benacre Park. We arrived at lunchtime and the girls insisted we do the stalls and the dog show before starting one of the walks. We eventually started the 2 mile walk at 3.15 but having done part of it the girls insisted on returning to the show leaving me to finish it on my own. Two miles must have been an underestimate as it must have taken me another 40 minutes to finish it but it went through usually private parts of the Benacre Estate which is part of a National Nature Reserve. Next year I'll do it earlier as there could be potentially excellent birding as the trail wound through ancient woodland and out to the back of Benacre Broad. I heard Bittern booming and saw Marsh Harrier and Buzzard. Information boards also indicated sites for Woodlark but mid-afternoon all was quiet and worrying the girls would be concerned where I was I did much of the walk at Swift pace.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Marsh warbler and Turtle Doves

It was another grey day in East Norfolk but the day brightened considerably when, whilst eating my breakfast, the sound of a purring Turtle Dove permeated the kitchen through the double glazing. This dove had to be close. Grabbing my bins and dashing outside I tracked the dove down to the rams paddock from where it flew towards our house and garden. Heading home and into the bedroom I found it feeding under the bird feeder on our patio before it flew to the feeder on the lawn before being flushed by a Jackdaw. My husband said it had been purring on both the roof and the privet hedge before dropping down to feed. Being now a scarce bird I do feel privileged to be able to count them as a garden bird. A little while later when out feeding the rams I saw it again a little further up the road and as I watched a Hobby hammered past it.
In the afternoon I went down to Southwold to see the Marsh Warbler that had been found there this morning by Brian Small, a bird I haven't seen in the UK since 1990! I could hear the bird singing enthusiastically as I approached, a jumbled blend of numerous bits of other birds songs and calls. At first it was quite elusive but then gave prolonged views singing just below the tops of the reeds. It was as good hearing it as it was seeing it. A Turtle Dove also flew past here while watching the warbler.
This evening Water Voles were performing well in the dyke at the bottom of the garden. The numerous holes in the bank suggest a good population. I saw one adult and a youngster, and my husband saw 2 further adults a short while later. This dyke is also favoured by nesting Moorhens as it tends not to be patrolled quite so regularly by quartering Marsh Harriers and stalking Grey Herons. Only last week I saw a Heron grabbing and swallowing a large Water Vole further out on the marsh, and the Marsh Harriers can be regularly seen carrying vole-shaped prey items.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Patch Garganey

After a lovely sunny week it was disappointing to wake this morning to leaden skies and the persistent cold northeasterly wind. As the temperature crawled reluctantly to 13C it was almost out with the winter woollies again instead of the shorts and T-shirts I had been thinking I'd be wearing. My original plan had been to go to Strumpshaw to look for Swallowtails but with not a single butterfly or dragonfly on view on my morning walk around the marsh I abandoned the idea. It appeared fairly quiet on the marsh with just the usual birds and nothing out of the ordinary.
In the warmth of yesterday evening the local Turtle Dove had given excellent views as it purred from a telegraph wire but there was no sign of it today.
I had put the moth trap out last night for the first time in a while. I used to trap regularly but with it taking up to 3 hours for me to empty and identify some of the catches I simply don't have time anymore but with moth-ers reporting low catches I thought I would give it a try. In the event I caught 30 moths of 11 species including Chocolate Tip:

Pebble Prominent:

and Poplar Hawkmoth:

Scanning the marshes form the bedroom at lunchtime a Marsh Harrier put up 4 ducks. Three were male Shoveler, the fourth a smaller brown looking duck but as they banked to drop back on to the marsh the smaller duck gave a brief glimpse of a white belly contrasting with a sharply demarcated brown neck. This had to be the male Garganey my husband had seen on the 30th May but of which there had been no sign since. I tramped back across the marshes and investigated the rushy pools the ducks had dropped on to. The rushes are now very tall and dense, and open water is hard to view but suddenly a flock of 16 ducks took to the air and flew straight over my head giving me excellent views of the male Garganey in their midst, a . The flock obligingly gave me another close flypast before splitting up and dropping back in to the rushes. My search also produced a Yellow Wagtail, the first in the area for a few weeks and a pair of Redshanks. Reed Buntings were abundant and there seemed to be good numbers of Lapwings too.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Turtle Doves return.

It was another busy day yesterday. After my husband spotted some ewes wagging their tails and stamping their feet in distinctive fashion we spent my afternoon break dagging and fly treating the group. Dagging is the term for trimming all the mucky bits from sheep's bottoms, yesterday with the added yuck factor of clusters of maggots. As the weather warms up this is a regular sheep farming hazard which we had escaped so far this year until today due to the chill spring. However the warmth also brought out the first Large Red Damselfly of the year in one of the more sheltered dykes near the house. The Water Soldiers in this dyke were on parade at the surface so there should be Norfolk Hawkers soon but further out on the marsh they are still submerged waiting for the water to warm up.
I was just getting ready to return to work when my husband returned from the school run and announced he had just seen a pair of Turtle Doves just a few hundred yards up the road. I turned right out of our drive instead of left for work  and stopped the car where he had seen them but there was no immediate sign. Then I noticed a dove perched on a telephone line further down the road but a Collared Dove flew out of the hedge near me, flew towards it and landed next to it. However the first bird was smaller and, retrieving my bins from the boot of the car, Turtle Dove became the 112th Patch bird of the year to my great delight. I continued around the loop to get back to my route to work and to my surprise came across another pair of Turtle Doves much further round. A bit like buses you wait ages and 3 turn up at once!
After work I trundled down the A12 to Kensington Gardens in Lowestoft to see the Red-breasted Flycatcher that had been found that afternoon. This was only my second spring RBF and gave excellent views picking insects from the underside of freshly opened sycamore leaves. Always a delightful bird to see, it appeared browner on the back than the autumn birds I usually see and the throat had a peachy wash.
Today after work I checked our nestboxes which I'm monitoring for the BTO nestbox challenge. Only 12 of our 28 boxes are occupied and the broods are small ranging from just 2 chicks to a maximum of 7, a reflection maybe of the poor winter and cold spring. Finding the boxes in our alder wood became an ordeal as the nettles are waist high in there and I managed to get lost, ending up ploughing through the nettles wearing thin trousers. My legs are still tingling all over as I type.
A walk around the marsh tonight was quiet but I managed to get this shot of one of the many Chinese Water Deer that thrive out here

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Week round up

I've just reached the end of a week off work. I'm going back to work tomorrow probably more tired than when I finished a week last Friday. May is one of my favourite months with plants and tress bursting in to life in brilliant fresh shades of green and the excitement of our summer visitors returning with the chance of a rarity thrown in. However May is also a month when all of many interests and tasks collide and I seem to spend most of my waking hours trying to keep on top of everything. I'd like to be out birding but the start of the Show season has me busy with the sheep, plus I'm in charge of the vegetable garden, greenhouse and flower borders which are also at their busiest with sowing seeds, planting out and weeding to keep on top of, plus most of the housework, all to be fitted around a full-time job. Oh yes, I have 2 children as well, though at least they're at an age where they can be left to their own devices!
I have managed a few walks around the marshes, and I took time out yesterday afternoon to go to the North Norfolk coast and visit Titchwell and Cley. Some birds have also come to me. My first Reed Warbler for the year on the Patch was singing in the privet hedge by the house on Sunday morning, and 2 Sand Martins flying across the marshes were no. 111 for the year yesterday.
In the sunshine and relative warmth of Monday the first Hairy Dragonfly of the year flew in to the garden off the marsh and the first damselfly emerged from the garden pond.

I'm not sure what species it is but we usually get Blue-tailed and Azure. The first Flag Iris was also blooming in the pond as was Ragged Robin in the adjacent bog garden

There was also excitement in the rookery with the first young rooks fledging. Sadly one bird's maiden flight was straight in to the electricity cables that cross the marsh and it plummeted lifeless to the ground. At least the ground is soft this year so there should be plenty of food for the other youngsters. Dry years usually leave numerous fledgling rook carcasses scattered across the marsh with the birds unable to find enough food.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were spent at the Suffolk Show. I've camped in previous years but after last years appalling weather I decided I'd had enough of trying to sleep next to a mainline railway with heavy horses kicking their stable doors all night and farriers staggering back from the bar at 2 in the morning, and commuted  to the showground every day instead. Despite having to get up at 5.30 am I felt considerably better. We didn't do very well but this was the National Southdown show with the best breeders in the country so I hadn't expected to win anything anyway and in a case of "if you can't beat them join them" I bought the 1st placed shearling ram, a huge solid beast of a sheep and brought him home. As a consolation my eldest daughter came 2nd in Sheep Young Handlers.
On Friday it was time to weigh, worm, vaccinate, copper bolus and fly treat this years lambs, which took me most of the day with the help of youngest daughter marking each lamb as it was done. A Cuckoo provided a back drop with only the second of the year here calling most of the morning.
This left me with Saturday to go birding. On my morning walk around the marsh to check the sheep there was a steady passage of Swifts and House Martins with the aforementioned Sand Martins going north. In the afternoon I headed up to first Titchwell then Cley. It felt like winter at Titchwell with an overcast sky and such a cold wind off the North Sea that I ended up wearing gloves on the 1st June! Highlights were Spoonbill, 10 Little Gulls, 3 Red-crested Pochard and a pair of Garganey. I moved on to the East Bank at Cley hoping to see the White-spotted Bluethroat. During the drive there the sun finally broke through the cloud and the day was transformed from winter to early summer. The Bluethroat was on show on top of a bush as soon as I turned up although it was very distant and heat haze made the views ever worse. Is was at least possible to see its blue throat and its beak open as it sang but it was too far away to actually hear it. The calls of passing Sandwich Terns added to the summery feel although a Red-breasted Merganser on Arnolds Marsh was more a remnant of winter. A distinctive gull call drew my attention to 2 Med Gulls flying over the East Bank. The reserve was otherwise fairly quiet both for birds and people and I had North Hide all to myself. Looking across to Daukes and Avocet hides I could see that these too were also empty. Walking back along the East Bank Swifts were flying so low past me you could hear the rush of their wings and see them in close detail. It was all in all a very pleasant evening.