Sunday, 27 April 2014

Return to Kessingland and more summer migrants

There was a mild sense of deja-vu when my mobile phone tweeted "Hoopoe at Kessingland NOW" as I lay in bed on Saturday morning. It was another grey morning (why at a weekend?) and rain threatened but a Hoopoe is always worth seeing. This time my husband came, and we also dragged my daughters out persuading them that the dog would enjoy the walk. Rallying the troops took some time as my 13 year old daughter is a typical teenager and rather partial to her bed at weekends so we didn't manage to set off until the rain had begun to fall.
Reaching Kessingland my daughters and dog headed off for the sea, leaving my husband and I to plod south along the beach into a fine drizzle driven by a brisk, chill southerly wind. I noticed a father and young son birding team walking off the dunes but it was my husband who spotted when they waved at us. Hurrying over to them they pointed out the Hoopoe feeding just in front of the shingle ridge in the middle of the beach. This exotic visitor from sunnier climes looked a little out of place in this bare, open somewhat dismal location and it rapidly took off and with flopping flight headed for the dunes. We caught up with it again as it fed along the path on top of the dunes but it was soon off again on to the slightly more bushy area where I saw the Ring Ouzels last week and then on again into bushes on the south side of the river.
We moved on to Beach Farm in hope of the Wryneck passing several Wheatears including some splendidly plumaged males. The Wryneck had disappeared with the onset of the rain and stayed stubbornly out of view whilst we were there. The bushes in the vicinity seemed alive with Whitethroats however. Walking back to the car, a Lesser Whitethroat gave a few blasts of its staccato song but refused to show too.
Today was a far more pleasant day with warm sunshine. I toyed with the idea of heading for the coast again but decided to stay home and bird the marshes instead. A morning stroll round the marshes was rewarded with confirmation that we had 2 broods of Lapwing chicks, with 2 sets of three chicks feeding around the edge of the scrape. Nearer the house my first Holly Blue butterfly of the year posed on an ivy and Orange Tips seemed abundant.

I stayed outside to have lunch on the patio enjoying watching the activities of the local Marsh Harriers. A House Martin cruised overhead, my first of the year, but even better came the sound of a Cuckoo across the marshes, much earlier than last year. A Peregrine dashed across the marshes too. I also noticed two largish dragonflies on the marsh, too distant to identify, but likely to be Hairy Dragonflies.
This evenings highlights were 2 Short-eared Owls, Green Sandpiper, and  a Curlew which became my third patch year-tick of the day. After a Garden Warbler in the garden during the week this brought my  Patchwork species total to 99 for the year. Can I crack 100 in the 3 remaining days of April?

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Lapwing success

It was a red letter day today. Walking round the marsh this evening I noticed one of the Lapwings sitting rather awkwardly on the edge of the scrape with very fluffed out breast feathers. After a few minutes she stood up and, much to my delight, revealed 4 fluffy recently hatched chicks, a first for our marshes. Now all they have to do is dodge the crows, Herring Gulls and Marsh Harriers but at least the Harriers won't be feeding chicks for a while yet.
Other new arrivals are Sedge Warblers which are in full song and a new Green Sandpiper yesterday. I was also treated to the spectacular sight of 2 Short-eared Owls mobbing a Marsh Harrier, and a Water Vole paddling determinedly along a dyke was the first I've seen for a while.

This lunchtime I had a reasonable length lunch hour which gave me time to get away from the surgery with its endless interruptions to my lunch and nip out to Burgh Castle. The tide was just right with warm sunshine, giving me a very enjoyable and relaxing 45 minutes birding with 2 Greenshank, 2 Spotted Redshanks and a flock of 26 Whimbrel flying by being the highlights. There was a sizeable flock of Black-tailed Godwits, and singing Reed Warblers were a year tick too. When I get the chance I should escape here more often!

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Dotterel and Ring Ouzel, Kessingland

It was another grey day in east Norfolk today and, with a wind whipping in off the North Sea, rather a chilly one too. A bright spot was news of a Dotterel at Kessingland Beach so with all quiet on the marshes I trundled over there this afternoon. The Dotterel was easily found in the vast expanse of shingle by looking for the small group of birders huddled against the wind. The massed ranks of dog walkers were thankfully sticking to the landward side of the beach leaving the Dotterel undisturbed in the middle.
Whilst I was there it spent all its time sat down on the shingle resting, only occasionally opening its eye for a quick look around. Without the other birders already there, it would have been very difficult to find!

With the Dotterel seemingly glued to the one spot, I walked over the dunes towards the sluice in search of the Ring Ouzels that were there. I quickly saw two including a superb spring male feeding with Starlings by one of the many paths that crossed the rough ground. The birds were very skittish, not helped by frequent disturbance from Sunday walkers using the area, flying back and forth from the line of bushes inland across to the rough brambly areas just inside the dunes and only occasionally lingering on the short grassy areas. However they were still easy to see unlike many other Ring Ouzels I've looked for in the past. I saw at least 3 birds in total, male and female and also some smart spring Wheatears, my first of the year.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

New Arrivals

Spring has moved on apace as far as the local plants are concerned . Blackthorn blossom has rapidly given way to the wild damson blossom which in turn is handing on the baton to the start of the hawthorn blossom. My apple and cherry trees are just starting to bloom too and the Bird Cherry in our wildlife garden is smothered in flowers.

The Cowslips too are a mass of nodding buttery yellow across the grass there too

Out on the marsh the Cuckoo Flowers are appearing, white from a distance but a subtle mauve close up.

 These flowers are so named as they are supposed to herald the arrival of the Cuckoo but summer migrants have still been slow to appear. The sudden chill edge to the now northerly wind probably hasn't helped. There was a sudden flurry of activity on Thursday with some brief showers seemingly pushing small numbers of hirundines ahead of them. Two Sand Martins passed by along with double figures of Swallows and my first Yellow Wagtail of the year lifted off from the edge of the scrape. A flock of 10 Feral Pigeons flew through too, my first of the year on the patch! Today a single Whitethroat was singing in a bush along the road. Meanwhile, up to 3 Short-eared Owls, birds I associate more with winter have been quartering the marshes in the early evening but one Swallow is waving the flag for summer, singing each morning on the wires near his usual nest site.
Our Lapwings suddenly became even more aggressive in the latter part of the week, chasing off even their erstwhile ally the Oystercatcher so I wonder if they may have finally hatched off some chicks. The female in that area is no longer sitting but the grass is too long to see if there might be chicks so it will be a case of waiting and seeing. Another bird is still sitting tight.
We also welcomed two new additions to the farm, this years batch of pigs, although just two this time. Christened Piddle and Puddle by my younger daughter, they are Oxford Sandy and Blacks crossed with a Welsh boar, hence the ginger tones

Our final lamb of the year arrived on Tuesday easing the work load. Most of our ewes and lambs are now out on the marshes, the lambs enjoying the opportunity on warm evenings to stretch their legs in manic races across the fields, always an entertaining sight.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

White-tailed Eagle at Lynford and Going Ape in the forest

If you read yesterdays blog you will be aware that family commitments kept me from Flamborough and the Crag Martin. However Go Ape is in the middle of Thetford Forest and close to several excellent birding sites and I couldn't see why we shouldn't combine a bit of birding with our visit, much to my two daughters disgust. Lynford Arboretum was our chosen destination and on our arrival several Common Crossbills and the contentious two-barred bird were present (of which there is an excellent discussion here). Typically, there were 2 photographers standing close by the drinking pool, way in front of the assembled birders, right out in the open.
We had a wander down to the horse paddocks seeing Yellowhammer, Nuthatch and Grey Wagtail before returning to the visitor hut hoping for more crossbills. Suddenly my husband said "There's a large raptor coming overhead". Looking up to the northeast I picked up the bird straight away. I see Buzzards and Marsh Harriers all the time at home and this was clearly neither, the bird was massive with huge broad wings, slightly wedged tail and a relatively long neck. This could only be a White-tailed Eagle especially when its huge size was confirmed as it was mobbed by a seemingly diminutive Buzzard. We manged to alert about 4 other birders and watched it for 5 minutes or so as it circled slowly just to one side of the sun before it drifted off to the south west.
Coincidentally a White-tailed Eagle had been reported 3 miles from our house this morning, it must have been following us!
Time was up and my husband dropped me and the girls off at Go Ape (paying £2.10 for the privilege of driving in and out of the car park) before he headed off to Santon Downham. I have to admit that Go Ape is actually worth the cost with my youngest daughter having an "awesome" time. My eldest daughter had to be virtually prised from a tree to make the first crossing but soon conquered her fear of heights and was climbing rope ladders, balancing precariously across shaky walkways and hurling herself down massive zip wires. Only at the very end when we were in the very highest trees on some of the scariest runs did her nerves return and she started clinging to the trees again. I'm not too keen on heights either but ended up taking the difficult route and doing the ultimate 'Tarzan Swing' a hair-raising initial plummet earthwards before the ropes catch you and swing you in to a large net strung high between two trees. I'm sure I heard Firecrests calling along the route but was never able to see one.
My husband meanwhile had  excellent views of a drumming Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at Santon Downham and at least 200 Brambling before having to pay another £2.10 to pick us up but a great day was had by all..

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Slow start to spring

This April has been a complete contrast to April 2013. Last year, we were blasted with interminable, cold north-easterly winds that put the final nail in the coffin for our local Barn owls and held up the new spring growth for weeks. Today, everywhere is washed with fresh spring green, blossom is smothering everything and cowslips and marsh marigolds are in full bloom. Puzzlingly, our summer migrants don't seem to be keeping pace with spring. Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps have arrived and are singing from the undergrowth but the skies remained stubbornly silent until today when the first twittering of our returning Swallows was at last heard over the garden.
Our local resident summer visitors, by which I mean Shoveler, Coot, Little Grebe and Gadwall, have turned up at least. A pair of Shoveler seem to have taken up residence on our scrape where at least 2 pairs of Lapwing appear to be sitting on eggs. The Oystercatchers and Redshank still remain too, the Oystercatchers being particularly useful and vocal in assisting the Lapwings to chase off any crows that wander over. Its interesting to see they make a distinction between the numerous rooks, now busily flying back and forth feeding their young, which are ignored and the crows, which clearly regarded as a threat and rapidly seen off
Bird of the week was a Grasshopper Warbler that gave a few brief bursts of song from a nettle and scrub covered bank as I walked back from checking the sheep one morning. This was just a few yards from where we had a Gropper previously 3 years ago in almost identical circumstances on a very similar date. Two Short-eared Owls have also returned to the marshes after appearing briefly earlier in the winter.
Feeling otherwise short changed on migrants, I headed to Minsmere on Thursday afternoon where things got off to a good start with swirling Sand Martins at their nest bank in the old car park. Another summer migrant, Willow Warbler, was singing in the North Bushes. I then considered myself fortunate to see a Cettis Warbler singing in full view for once rather than lurking invisibly in the bottom of a bush. The scrape was covered in hundreds of Black-headed Gulls, from which I managed to pick out at least 5 Med Gulls in various plumages, but apart from Avocets and Lapwings, there were few other waders apart from one Ruff and a Barwit. Moving on to Island Mere a very obliging Jack Snipe was bobbing amongst the emergent reeds to the right of the hide.

Bitterns were in full voice and one eventually gave a brief view flying across the reeds. I also heard a short snatch of Sedge Warbler song
As early evening approached and the heat haze dissipated, I headed back to the North Wall and scanned the field behind the visitor centre and quickly found a now active Stone-Curlew in their usual Minsmere site.

Yesterday, my plans for a day out with my daughters were disrupted by a mega alerting pager, a Crag Martin at Flamborough! With news a little vague at first, I finally set off at 11am on the long trip to Flamborough. First decision was whether to take the much longer thrash along a dual carriageway route or the shorter but appallingly tedious plod along the A17. Guided by my sat-nav I took the latter but after 3 1/2 hours of following lorries and news on the Crag Martin having turned decidedly negative I stopped for lunch in a Tesco car park at Brigg and after a chat with a friend on site turned back for home. Frustratingly, the Crag Martin reappeared this afternoon, but having promised faithfully on Friday that I would take the girls out tomorrow I shall be swinging through the trees at Go Ape in Thetford  rather than retracing my steps up the A17.

Bird of the day today was a Green Sandpiper, a first for the scrape, and there were 4 of the aforementioned Swallows including 2 on the wires adjacent to their traditional nest site in our car port. A House Sparrow paid a visit to the garden for the first time in a couple of months and my husband had a Yellow Wagtail on the scrape too. Spring seems to be moving at last.