Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Migrants and Masked Shrike

This last week started very slowly but steadily built to a stunning climax. Despite birds starting to arrive in East Anglia, Monday and Tuesday were a dead loss as work kept me from any birding at all. Free time arrived on Wednesday afternoon, so thinking there had to be something to find, I tried Corton a few miles away on the coast, a known migrant hot-spot. Sadly, it was decidedly cold, bird and weather-wise with a chill, grey murk hanging over land and sea. Migrants were distinctly thin on the ground, the only highlight being a flyover calling Tree Pipit.
Come Thursday, birds were pouring in to the north coast of the county but my few free hours were assigned to sorting out some sheep with the help of my husband. A flock of 6 Buzzards circling low over our wood, mewing loudly provided a welcome diversion as did a couple of Hobbies, an adult followed by a begging youngster. Having driven the ewe flock back out on to the marsh, there was at least time for a quick spin round. Walking along a reed-fringed dyke, a chat popped up in front of us. Stonechat said my husband Chris, as I called Whinchat. It turned out the 4 bird theory was in play and we were both right, with 2 Whinchats and 2 Stonechats flicking  across the top of the reeds heading rapidly eastwards. It was hard to keep up with them but they eventually settled distantly using a dense reed margin and electricity wires as vantage points. Stonechats regularly winter on the marshes, but Whinchats are scarce visitors here so its always a pleasure to see one.
I was working Saturday morning so news of a Masked Shrike at Spurn had to be temporarily ignored but after lunch we drove north to join the "crowds" at Burnham Overy. We had missed the peak of the flood of migrants that had passed through here and the crowds of birders were actually quite small by the time we arrived at 2.30pm. Arriving at the bushes at the end of the boardwalk, we quickly caught up with 2 Red-breasted Flycatchers, and then walked east in to the dunes looking to see what else we could find. There were virtually no other birders here. Chris quickly located a third Red-breasted Flycatcher which obliging flew and promptly landed in full view in a bare bush right in front of me. We managed to find a few Garden Warblers, Redstart and Wheatears and were about to head westwards again when we noticed a solitary birder staring intently into a single bush with his camera poised. Chris remarked that he had been there for at least 20 minutes so we wandered nonchalantly over to investigate. It turned out the birder had been watching this particular bush for an hour and a half trying to get decent views of a Barred Warbler which was lurking within, apparently feeding on fallen berries on the ground. As we were about to join him in his vigil a large greyish warbler with whitish outer tail rocketed out of the bush in to a much denser and larger clump. Our quest for the Barred Warbler had seemingly suddenly got a lot harder. I took up station on one side, where there was a gap through to the middle of the clump, Chris on the other. Within minutes I spotted movement and the Barred Warbler skulked through the back of the gap but was out of view by the time Chris got round to me. He returned to his spot, I stayed at mine and again the Barred Warbler appeared and again Chris missed it. When this happened for a third time, this time with the Barred Warbler in full, glorious view, we swapped sides. Ironically, I had a brief glimpse on my (new) side but Chris quickly got decent views before the Barred warbler flipped out of the clump.
Sunday saw us getting up early and heading north again but this time on the long tedious drive up the A17 to Spurn. The Masked Shrike was in view distantly from the Well Field car park as we arrived, making me appreciate again the benefits of a zoom on a decent scope. It was clear there were many other migrants in the area and walking down the road to the sea wall we spent some time scanning a hedgerow. Birds just kept popping out one after the other including another RBF, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Redstart, Garden Warblers, Common and Lesser Whitethroats and Tree Sparrows.
Returning down the road we discovered a viewing area for the Shrike had been opened up. From here we had phenomenal close views as the Shrike worked its way up and back down the hedgerow towards us, a delightful bird, its long black white-edged tail recalling an overgrown Long-tailed Tit. I was able to try out my new phone-scoping adaptor with pleasing results.

I would have liked to spend longer in the area but having abandoned our children at home (although of an age to be legally abandoned) we left in the early afternoon to get home at a reasonable time. It was still a very satisfying half days birding and an excellent end to the week.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Willow Emerald Damselfly at last

5 years ago, the Willow Emerald Damselfly was found breeding in Suffolk and quickly appeared in East Norfolk in particular at Strumpshaw just a few miles up the Yare valley from us. Our alder wood surrounded by dykes appeared to be the ideal habitat for them but despite diligent searching by my husband Willow Emeralds appeared to have forsaken us, apart from a possible sighting last year.
Yesterday, I arrived home from work to find a photo of a Willow Emerald open on our PC. My husband had obviously finally succeeded in his quest but as he had taken our daughter to swim training followed by a club committee meeting I was left in the dark as to where he had found it.
This afternoon, after a long stressful morning at work I managed to make it home for a very late lunch with just enough time for my husband to show me where he had photographed his Willow Emerald. There was a short but anxious wait before, with a light tap of the overhanging Alder branches, a Willow Emerald made a brief flight before rapidly alighting back on an Alder leaf.

Unlike most damselflies, which seem to barely sit still, Willow Emeralds seem particularly attached to their perching places and if disturbed quickly settle back down and allow a close approach. In just a brief search, we managed to find another 2 males in just a short stretch of alders

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Wrynecks, Whinchats and a Tufted Duck

My home patch has been frustratingly quiet. With reports of many migrants on the coast, particularly Whinchats, I've set off on a circuit of the marshes hoping each time to see some sign of autumn migration. Last year we had Whinchat and Wheatear; this year, so far, precisely nothing. There've even been 6 Whinchats just up the valley at Claxton for heaven's sake, surely one could have stopped here!
My efforts to see Wryneck had also been failing. My first attempt was at Yarmouth Cemetery about 10 days ago. I arrived in the mid-afternoon to be told it had flown in to a bush and had not been seen again. Despite much searching by me and another birder, we failed to locate it but at least I found myself a dapper Pied Flycatcher, my first of the autumn, so the visit was not in vain.
My birding activities the following weekend were restricted to a 4 hour window on Saturday afternoon due to work and sporting commitments (my daughter doing the sporting bit in Letchworth, me being the taxi) so my husband and I elected to visit Winterton hoping for Wryneck and Greenish Warbler. Arriving just north of the totem pole we found one birder staring at a dense clump of bushes. Sure enough, the Wryneck had been showing well on the short Winterton turf but had flown into a bush and disappeared. Despite searching hard for 45 minutes, there was no sign of the Wryneck, or of any other birds for that matter, so with limited time we gave up and turned southwards hoping the Greenish Warbler would be more obliging.
The warbler had been quite elusive at times and a small crowd of birders was gathered by the "Valley" waiting for it to reappear. Fortunately we had timed it right and didn't have long to wait as I noticed a small bird flick into the back of a willow and then pop out in the open on the front of the tree. It performed beautifully, flitting back and forth from the willow to a huge buddleia, constantly flicking its wings.
Sunday was spent with my daughter at Letchworths annual Duck'n'Dash, nothing to do with birds, but an aquathlon ie a biathlon composed of a 600m swim followed by a 6km run. My daughter was competing as the swimmer in a relay team, the other half of which  was my friend and fellow birder James Walsh doing the running bit. Considering that they were essentially a Junior + Veteran team, they came a very creditable close 3rd against Adult+Adult teams.
During this week, I had time for an hour or so's birding back at Great Yarmouth Cemetery. Whinchats were posing here using gravestones for lookouts, another Pied Flycatcher hunted insects above them and I was pleased to catch up with a classically tail-quivering Redstart.
Yesterday, I was tied up yet again, this time for a wedding but finally managed to get out to Kessingland this afternoon where 2 Werynecks had been reported.
This time, I arrived to find a group of birders watching a Wryneck feeding distantly at the base of a bracken covered ridge. I could see where the bird was through bins but this was definitely a scope job at this range and in the short time it took me to put my scope up, the bird had been flushed by dog walkers and I was just in time to glimpse the Wryneck through my scope as it shot over the ridge into the bracken. The other birders left and I moved forward to a better position but it was an anxious wait before the Wryneck popped back into view on the grass. Focusing my scope on this bird I was stunned to see another Wryneck drop in next to it. I had two Wrynecks side by side in one scope view, simply breathtaking! One Wryneck quickly hopped off out of view but the other was very showy. After walking to Beach Farm and back, where I saw one each of Pied and Spotted Flycatcher, one of the Wrynecks was perched in full view on a bramble patch on my return.
This evening back at home, a final walk around the marshes at last gave me a patch year tick for September, not a hoped for Whinchat but a Tufted Duck, a bird I haven't seen here for 14 years! Even on a small regularly watched patch, birds can always surprise you.