Wednesday, 22 January 2014

We make the national press!

More excitement this week with a mention in The Guardian here . Many thanks to Stephen Moss.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

More marsh management

We ran out of heating oil this weekend. This time last year it would have been a disaster, this year it's a minor inconvenience. The continuing mild weather is great for the birds although not so good for birding with very few waterfowl locally apart from our usual wintering Teal flock. Its easy to believe spring is not far away despite it being only mid-January and the local flora and fauna are adding to that feeling.
In the garden Hazel catkins are in full bloom, Snowdrops have speared through the fallen leaves under the trees and are about to burst in to flower, and Daffodil spikes have appeared in the lawn. The Rooks were back in their rookery today, not just one of their brief early morning forays but a full days noisy checking out of their old nest sites. Cuckoo Pint is starting to erupt in the hedgerows, Winter Gnats were dancing and Song Thrush and Great Tits were blasting out their songs. There's still plenty of time for a cold snap but at this time of the year it can't possibly last too long.
Yesterday we had Mark Smart, the warden at RSPB Berney Marshes, visit to give us some advice on improving the marshes to encourage Lapwings to breed. We need more foot drains, not to drain the marshes but to provide some persistent damp areas for Lapwing chicks to feed. As we've got the ability to control the dyke levels in the internal dykes on our land we've got some ideal areas and the RSPB are happy to come back in August (its too wet for a tractor right now) and cut them for us. We have to pay but I'd rather pay the RSPB than a contractor and if the RSPB do it we know the drains will be cut to the correct size and in the right place.
My Patchwork Challenge list has had only 2 additions since last weekend, the afore-mentioned Song Thrush and a calling Wigeon in the dark yesterday evening, despite much effort outdoors. Marsh Harrier CN (see January 11ths post) re-appeared today after going missing for 2 weeks. She was calling  using the high-pitched sound I usually hear between breeding birds in the spring. Would any one know if this is a sign of potential breeding activity?

Thursday, 16 January 2014


Our trail camera hit gold with these 2 Otters paying a visit to our mink raft on a rainy night. It makes a change to the more usual videos of Water Voles, Moorhens and Mute Swans gliding back and forth.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Patch birding - time for Rough-legs at last

I woke to a crisp, frosty scene, the first of the year if not the winter, with a bright winter sun. It was ideal conditions to head out with my Jack Russell to the Haddiscoe New Cut, the north-eastern boundary of my patch, in pursuit of the Rough-legged Buzzards on the Island.
The Island was surprisingly quiet, no geese, no ducks apart from a few Mallard and no waders apart from a large distant flock of Lapwings. There was no sign of either Rough-leg although there were plenty of other raptors including a close smart Peregrine on a gate post gleaming in the sun and a very pale Common Buzzard a little further away. Hares were boxing as if it were spring, Chinese Water Deer seemed to be everywhere and Little Egrets flying along the distant River Yare and popping up in dykes vastly outnumbered Grey Herons. I ventured further along the Cut, stopping as I met a birder walking back towards me. He hadn't seen the Rough-legs either but as I scanned again in to the distance suddenly there they were, close together on a gate. I watched them for some time hoping they might come closer but the juvenile moved steadily further away eventually followed by the adult which dropped on to the ground out of sight. The zoom on my scope was definitely needed and it came in useful again when the other birder mentioned he had seen a covey of partridges which could be Greys on Thurlton Marshes behind us. At full zoom the rusty faces and dark brown horseshoe markings on their bellies were clearly visible on a total of 12 birds, the biggest flock I've seen in this area.
With feeding time approaching for the lambs, I turned for home but not before my dog disgraced herself. We've always put her on a lead near other dogs as she's very timid around dogs and tends to act aggressively when they approach. My behaviourist colleague suggested this was the worst thing to do as it suggests we're scared of the dogs too and makes her fear worse. As I walked back, a party with 2 medium sized dogs approached on a parallel path. I decided to leave her off the lead and hoped she would stay close by. Big mistake! As they got nearer her tail shot up and she rocketed off towards them ignoring my calls and launched straight in to the attack. The skirmish was brief, the other dog was bigger and a well aimed kick from the other dogs owner had her scuttling away with her tail between her legs. I'll be having words with my colleague tomorrow!
After lunch for the lambs and myself, I decided to ignore the temptation of Parrot Crossbills in Waveney Forest, stay on Patch and explore the arable marshes. My walk there gave me a year-tick Fieldfare but the marshes at first seemed deserted. Suddenly a flock of about 50 Skylarks ascended from the newly emergent cereal crop I was walking by, closely followed by a large flock of Linnets that bounded off in to the distance. The farmer here always leaves wide field margins and has a variety of crops in a smallish area including some winter stubble. The Grey Partridges were on his fields too.
A close Barn Owl hunting over a patch of waste ground on the way home was a nice finish to the day.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Slow start

It's been a slow birding start to 2014. Most of my spare time has been taken up in the care of these little guys who started arriving on January 3rd

I've managed to get round the marshes a few times and although the continuing mild weather has kept things fairly quiet, I've managed a few star birds the most notable being a Stonechat, a bird that was absent from the patch in 2013 apart from the distant possible in December. We used to have a small number wintering annually but the cold winters seemed to wipe them out. It's good to see them making a return. A Short-eared Owl was also noteworthy as they seem to be few and far between this year judging by the lack of reports on the local grapevine. Although Woodcock winter in our alder wood, it was a surprise to see my first of the year in flight across the open marsh. A Peregrine sat on a gate post was behaving more predictably.
Visiting friends were also delighted to see Chinese Water Deer, a new mammal species for them. They're so ubiquitous here that we tend to take them for granted, rather like the Marsh Harriers, that seem to be permanently on view somewhere across the marsh.

We'd been seeing a wing-tagged Marsh Harrier in the latter half of December but struggled to read her tag until New Years Eve. "CN" wasn't one of ours, although she was quite a local bird having been tagged at Belton a few miles away in July 2012. She had been reported at Horsey in September 2012 but had then gone "missing" until she turned up here. She's moved on again and all our current Marsh harriers are tagless.
This morning I did the BTO's Earlybird survey getting up before dawn, thankfully not too early at this time of year, and watching the bird feeders from the comfort of the bedroom window. A surprise was to see 6 Marsh Harriers lifting out of the reeds on the marshes as daylight broke, clearly a mini roost which I had been previously unaware of. 30 Greylags also came up off the marshes and headed westwards, birds which I had seen flying over whilst feeding the sheep on a couple of mornings this week without realising that they too are roosting on the marsh.
The digger is back at the moment but on routine Internal Drainage Board dyke maintenance. It leaves a trail of apparent devastation in its wake but its essential to keep the dykes from becoming overgrown and from silting up. The mud soon grasses over come the spring despite having a welly-trapping consistency at the moment.

The contractor is good enough to send us a particular driver who knows how we like our dykes done and does a good job in levelling the spoil. Unlike most farmers who want the sides of their dykes steep to minimise the land loss, we prefer our dyke sides to be sloping. This is better for the flora, which is one of the reasons we were accepted in to HLS, and has the added bonus of giving the sheep more chance of getting out of the dykes if they fall in. The digger is followed by an entourage of Black-headed Gulls, Grey Herons, Little Egrets, Starlings and Pied Wagtails who pick over the mud for hapless invertebrates. The driver tells us he occasionally sees Water Voles scurrying from the bucket as he dumps his load, although most are too deep in their burrows to be disturbed, and sometimes Pike and Eels too, although the latter are increasingly scarce.
After spending this afternoon, dismantling the sheep mothering up pens and mucking out the sheep shed, I am finally free to do some birding a little further afield tomorrow but not too far. There are two lambs to bottle-feed!

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Patchwork Challenge 2013 Final Score

My first year of Patchwork Challenge is over with a final score of 122 species and 141 points although my challenge really ended in November when my last new bird was added. December was a nearly month with a distant small falcon which could have been a Merlin and a distant small passerine which could have been a Stonechat but both too far away to be anywhere near certain.
The year started in fine style with a Bittern from the bedroom window, an excellent patch tick, and a trip to the outer limits of my patch also brought me 6 points in the shape of Rough-legged Buzzard and Great White Egret on Haddiscoe Island. The Rough-legs have returned this year so will hopefully soon be on my 2014 list although it would have been better if they had chosen the more traditional location of the marshes behind the house! A lunchtime twitch from work added an unexpected species, Great Crested Grebe and a tramp in to the neighbours marshy wood gave me another irregular bird, a Water Rail. January ended on 78 species, an excellent start.
Things slowed down a little in February with the addition of 7 species but one of those was House Sparrow, a rare visitor to our garden, which required a trip to another outer boundary to get on the list. Two subsequently turned up in the garden in the spring for a week or so but despite our numerous bird feeders providing ample quantities of food they never stay.
March added just 3 species, the highlight being 2 records of Bewick's Swan. Getting the first required a hard slog along the Haddiscoe New Cut but once they were safely on the list, a small flock flew up the valley, viewable from the comfort of home! Grey Partridge also suddenly appeared to pop up everywhere! March also marked the onset of a sustained spell of bitterly cold easterly winds that continued in to April delaying the onset of spring. Our Barn Owls, which had taken a battering during the snowy winter, completely disappeared. Summer migrants were late returning and resident birds, noticeably our Blue and Great Tits whose nests I was monitoring in our 30 or so nestboxes, were also late in starting to nest.
 April added 15 birds to my total, most notably a Black Redstart which graced our outbuildings for an evening, and also the years first record of Feral Pigeon! May arrived and with it came the first Hobby of the year scything across the marshes, and an unexpected Garden Warbler singing in the plum hedge at the end of the garden. There was however an increasingly anxious wait for what was once a spring fixture with the first distant singing Cuckoo not heard until the 15th and only a couple of occasions after. By the end of May my list had made it to 109 species.
Another local breeder was even later than the Cuckoos in returning but when the Turtle Doves came back in June they came back with a bang, purring from the roof of our house and on the wires above our sheep paddocks, a real privilege in this day and age. I've got everything crossed that they return in 2014. June also gave me a splendid drake Garganey on the neighbours marshy pools.
From June onwards, further additions to my list were few and far between. Whinchat was the highlight in August but seemed to be the only migrant that penetrated this far inland from the large falls on the coast 8 miles away. Ruff and Wheatear were Septembers new birds apparently attracted by the ongoing work on our new scrape and hopefully a promise of things to come this year. October only added Jack Snipe, a good local bird, and the final new species of 2013 was Grey Wagtail in November.
So what did I miss? The glaring hole in my list was Lesser Whitethroat, normally annual and a not infrequent breeder on my patch but my husband, who has the advantage of not having a full-time job, also saw Osprey (2 points), Crane (3 points) and Med Gull (2 points) so my final score could have been nearer 150.
2014 will be interesting with the new scrape ready and waiting for passing waders and waterbirds. The neighbours scrape attracted Avocet and Spoonbill amongst many others during its first year. I also need to do a bit of work on the gull flocks that gather in the arable fields on the edge of my patch and try and pick out the Yellow-legged and Caspian Gulls that must be there! And, of course, another River Warbler would do just nicely.