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:

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Spotted Flycatcher - a garden rarity

This evening nm husband rushed in after moving the cows and lambs. I thought he was going to tell me something was ill but anxiety turned to excitement as he told me he had just seen a Spotted Flycatcher in the neighbours garden. Once a regular breeder around here, Spotted Flycatchers are now very rare. I haven't seen one locally since 2010 so this news had me grabbing my bins and rocketing out of the back door, particularly as this would be another patchwork tick. There were a tense few minutes before the flycatcher popped up in the Bird Cherries on our boundary and then did a couple of mini circuits of the corner of the garden, showing beautifully. Of course, I hadn't grabbed my camera.
The Bird Cherries, incidentally, are laden with fruit and have attracted a horde of hungry blackbirds. Their numerous high-pitched calls especially as they go to roost in the alder wood lend a very autumnal atmosphere to the evenings. With a week off work next week a bit of autumn migration would not go amiss.
The BTO cuckoos are well on their way south now. I've sponsored a cuckoo for each of the last 3 years. The first year it was Lyster who made it to Africa and back again but sadly died in the desert on his southward migration in 2012. Last year my cuckoo was John who made it only as far as Spain before dying in the drought that struck there. This year my cuckoo is Ken who after taking the Spanish route has happily made it across the Sahara and is now in Burkino Faso. I also have an interest in Patch, courtesy of Patchwork Challenge. He's currently languishing in Northern Italy. It's strange how you can get attached to an icon on a map but I find myself feeling the tension when my cuckoo sets off on that big leap across the barren sands of the Sahara. It's a big relief when that icon reaches the other side and you can track it moving around in vegetated areas replenishing its energy reserves before moving on to central Africa.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Tasty Norfolk lamb!

We spent this evening sorting out the lambs ready for market/slaughter and those that are to be kept. I much prefer to take lambs to the abattoir ourselves rather than put them through a market to be driven who knows where so if anyone out there is interested in some fantastically tasty marsh reared Norfolk Southdown lamb (references can be provided) please let me know. We sell half or whole lamb packs at £6.50/kg, an absolute bargain compared to here. You can also have your lamb cut up how you want. If interested contact me via This is a blatant bit of self -promotion but if you can't advertise on your own blog where can you?

Monday, 12 August 2013

Cley Red-necked Phalarope and Caspian Gull

News of a Red-necked Phalarope at Cley sparked my interest. I hadn't seen one for a considerable number of years but it was my eldest daughter's 13th (eek) birthday on Saturday so I stayed home. On Sunday the early news suggested it was rather distant and I had things to do with the sheep in the morning. It may only be August but it was time to sort out the batch of ewes to produce my early lambs and to introduce them to rams Bradley and Bentley.
Back at the house, a Yellow Wagtail was a surprising visitor to the patio walking around amongst the flower pots before taking flight to the roof.
It wasn't until 3.50 that I headed off to Cley but made good progress through Norwich and was in a relatively empty North Hide by 5.20. The exquisite phalarope was showing well on the near side of the scrape with a group of Dunlin delicately picking insects from the surface of the water between the muddy hummocks left by the trampling feet of the cattle that graze the area. There were also several Little Ringed Plovers, a bird I always enjoy seeing. As I walked back to my car 4 Yellow Wagtails flew over the Eye Field and there was a single Wheatear. I stopped briefly to talk to Richard Millington and he implied these were new arrivals.
I went round to Pat's Pool and came across Eddie Myers in Daukes Hide who had just found an adult Caspian Gull. Views of this bird were much better from Teal Hide and although it spent much of its time sitting down facing us its distinctive dark eye made it easy to pick out. It occasionally stood up and showed off its other Caspian Gull features, long stilty legs and a deep belly, and even the big white tip to the underside of P-whatever (the longest primary). There were also 2 or 3 Yellow-legged Gulls amongst the gathering gulls. A single Curlew Sandpiper was also nice to see.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Natterjack (and Roller!) at Horsey

Its high summer in the normal world but autumn in the birding world with migration hotting up. Unfortunately summer is the busiest time of year at work and this year it has been especially frantic hence the lack of posts in recent weeks. Weekends have become a time to take it easy on at least one day, sun bathe on the patio and recharge my batteries. I had hoped for some local waders but
the perpetual heat of July and the virtual absence of rain in these parts has dried the neighbours pools out completely so we have missed out on waders on the marshes. Our plans for our own scrape are moving forward, the final design has been sorted and contractors asked for quotes but it looks like it will be September before the diggers move in. The marshes themselves have become rather quiet bird-wise if you exclude the normal residents, Marsh Harriers and Hobby, but there has been an explosion of butterflies. The flowering Hemp Agrimony around the garden ponds have attracted a host of butterflies innumerable Peacocks and Whites, Commas, Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers and Small Tortoiseshells and a few Red Admirals and Painted Ladies.

Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your view) having a reasonably big list means that whilst others have been charging up and down the country in pursuit of a plethora of mega-alerts (successfully or otherwise) I haven't been joining them. All the birds I've needed this year have either been one day birds, turned up on some distant archipelago that can't be visited by boat in a weekend or have hurled themselves in to a wind turbine.
However the Roller that turned up at Horsey on Monday is a bird not to miss however many are on your list and it was a Norfolk tick after all. Monday was too busy but a window of opportunity opened on Tuesday and I rocketed out of work at lunchtime. I was expecting holiday traffic through Great Yarmouth but the drive was easy. Yet again faced with a long walk I was time restricted and instead of the casual amble most birders took along the Nelson Head track I had to route march. The Roller was showing well but distantly, perched on fence posts and making regular feeding forays, flashing its vivid blue wings and working steadily closer. Something caught my eye and I looked down to see a small toad crossing the sandy track beside me. There was something different about this toad from all the others I've seen. It didn't walk the same way, it was sandy coloured with mottled markings but the thin yellow stripe down the middle of its back made me think this had to be a Natterjack. Never mind Norfolk, this was a life tick! A text to my husband confirmed this clinching feature. The young Natterjack walked off in to the dunes and I returned my attention back to the Roller to savour the remaining 20 minutes I had before my return to work beckoned. Unfortunately I had to leave as the Roller came closer and closer but I did have good views compared to some and the Natterjack was particularly satisfying.
Just one more week at work now before a weeks holiday and my annual visit to Birdfair!