Sunday, 23 February 2014

February round up

Here in east Norfolk we seem to have escaped the worst of the severe weather that has been battering the country for the last 2 months. We had average rainfall in January and although February has been wetter the rainfall maps suggest only a little bit more than average. Consequently our marshes don't have much more standing water on them than in previous winters, a far cry from the Somerset Levels and Thames flood meadows. It has been windy but, apart from the neighbours rotten fence, there has been little damage too apart from part of an old Alder which came down in the last storm.

The mild weather continues to keep the patch fairly quiet and it feels rather like March, the winter birds gone (well actually they never really got here) and the spring birds yet to arrive. I've only managed to add 3 species this month to my Patchwork Challenge year-list. A Lesser Redpoll in the garden on the 8th was the first of the winter and for the first time in 17 years I've seen wintering Chiffchaff on the patch, two birds in fact. One of the Chiffchaffs was singing in the welcome sunshine we experienced last week. The lack of sustained cold can only be good for the local Barn Owls which were completely wiped out by last winters bitter weather. We had got used to regularly seeing up to 6 Barn Owls from the house so to see none last summer was very disheartening. One lone bird eventually moved in but I was delighted to see two together hunting over the marshes with a third bird more distantly earlier in the month. I hope its a good vole year.
The rooks have returned to their rookery to roost at night but apart from the odd bird carrying the occasional stick to an old nest, they have yet to start building in earnest. Meanwhile, small flocks of Lapwings have been moving through over the last few days, some stopping om the scrape marsh. On the advice of the RSPB, we turned down the pipe on the scrape to expose a little mud as Lapwings start prospecting for nest sites about now.
With the Patchwork list moving so slowly I've ventured further afield, firstly to Titchwell to catch up with some winter ducks, where Red-breasted Merganser, Goosander, Goldeneye and Common Scoter duly obliged and also get a fix of that wonderfully evocative sound of flocking Brent Geese. Today I persuaded my elder daughter to accompany me to Covehithe where I caught up with the female Long-tailed Duck that has spent the winter there. The sea was very stormy but I managed to find 3 Red-throated Divers bobbing wildly up and down giving now you see me, now you don't views.

With winter fizzling out, it's very much roll on spring now.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

East Norfolk in the sun!

It was a weekend of extreme rarity in 2014, wall-to-wall sunshine and no rain! After releasing the ewes and lambs into a field from the confines of their shed to enjoy the space for some proper lamby gambolling I headed off to catch up with some of the local scarcities. First stop was Great Yarmouth to join the myriad dogs and their owners walking the North Denes, in my case on the hunt for the 2 Shorelarks. Along with 2 other birders we searched the dunes between the Imperial Hotel and the Coffee Shack and eventually one of the other birders located them back where we started opposite the Imperial Hotel. When I saw them in November they were on the beach, but this time they were up close to the promenade feeding in the dunes themselves.
 After having my fill of the Shore Larks I moved up the coast to Horsey Mere. Here the 2 redhead Smew were being watched as I arrived so I was able to see these straight away but the birds were distant. I had a brief view of 2 Cranes in flight at the back of the Mere. I walked further along the muddy footpath hoping I might get a better view of the mere but as it became obvious that it was impossible to get any closer to the Smew I turned back. Suddenly the evocative, wild trumpeting of a crane came from across the mere and 2 Cranes appeared flying straight towards me. The Cranes flew straight over me and landed in the grazing marsh only a couple of hundred yards from where I was standing. I had been hoping to see Cranes but these were some of the best views I've had in a long time.

Next stop was the rather dubiously named Cess Road at Martham. On arrival the 2 Glossy Ibis were immediately visible close to a fence with a small group of birders on the other side. It was obvious that my scope was unnecessary so I just took my bins and camera from the car. The birds were no more than 20 feet away feeding in the wet grass completely unconcerned by their human admirers allowing excellent photo opportunities.

My final destination was the Ludham/Catfield area hoping to see the flock of swans that winters in the area. As I drove up Market Road 23 swans took off from a distant field and flew over my car heading west. They looked like Bewicks from their compact shape and short necks but they disappeared into the distance and I couldn't relocate them.

I spent yesterday in my home area, doing a BTO Winter Thrushes survey walk in the morning. The day had started well with the cheerful chirruping of a singing male House Sparrow in the garden, a house first (the singing that is). The thrush survey was very quiet with only a handful of Blackbirds seen but as I continued my loop around the marsh Marsh Harrier after Marsh Harrier appeared until I had 5 birds in one binocular field of view. By lunchtime there were up to 6 in the air together over a fairly small area of marsh, a fantastic sight. Two were winged tagged, one being the previously mentioned CN but I've been unable to read the other bird's tags as she's yet to perch up in view. The scrape held its first Wigeon of the year but other winter birds remain hard to find.