A diary of my birding activity covering highlights and photos from my birding adventures. Mainly Norfolk (UK), occasionally beyond. I might mention the odd thing that isn't avian, but for moth and other insect news check out my mothing diary.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Hawfinch mania

I started off at East Wretham Heath this morning where 4 sleeping swans grabbed my attention.  With necks wound in and bills not showing, and nothing alongside to judge size by I'm not sure why I knew they were Bewick's Swans, but somehow I did.  I guess Mutes would have had longer tails but there must have been something else?

Bewick's Swans, East WrethaTurns m Heath, 21st January

Eventually they woke up and my instict proved correct.

Bewick's Swans, East Wretham Heath, 21st January

Turns out they've been there since December.  This Mute Swan didn't have much time for them though.

Mute and Bewick's Swans, East Wretham Heath, 21st January

Other birds here included at least 3 Lesser Redpolls and 2 Green Woodpeckers.  I was planning to spend some time at Thetford but on hearing that there weren't many gulls showing there I decided to walk on through Croxton Heath to Fowlmere and Devil's Punchbowl.  I've never done this walk before and probably won't rush to do it again - a lot of miles trudged for little reward.  A few more birds around Fowlmere and Devil's Punchbowl like Nuthatch and Treecreepers but the walk between there and East Wretham was uneventful in both directions taking different tracks.

Back at East Wretham Heath a Stoat was no doubt enjoying the abundance of Rabbits. A pair of Bramblings perched up for a bit before heading off when I tried to take their picture.

Bramblings, East Wretham Heath, 21st January

Eventually I did make it to Thetford where the Glaucous Gull appeared as I had my lunch.  Also an adult Yellow-legged Gull there.

Glauous Gull, Thetford, 21st January

Next I headed to Lynford where I planned to have just a quick look at Lynford Water before heading down to the Hawfinches.  I wasn't particularly bothered about seeing the Great White Egret but when I glimpsed a large-looking egret flying behind the trees at the east end and dropping in to the reedy area there I couldn't leave it without finding out whether it was it or not.  I walked all the way up as far as the bridge and back down along the top but couldn't relocate it so I'm still none the wiser (though I'm pretty sure it was).  There were a couple of drake Goosanders in the reedy area, barely visible.  A couple of Green Woodpeckers, a pair of Marsh Tits and Nuthatch also present round here, along with 20+ Siskins.

Eventually I got down to the paddocks where I had already missed the first arriving Hawfinches.  But as I stood there with PD and AB I notched up an incredible 49 Hawfinches.  With the birds they'd seen before I arrived plus a few I missed while I was there they managed 65 I think, fewer than yesterday which was itself down on the day before when I think they said they had 83 (don't quote me on that - low 80s anyway).  Many of the birds spent some time in the tops of the trees giving great views, if a little distant for photography.  A single Crossbill and later 3 Crossbills flew over and stuff like Marsh Tit, Green Woodpecker, Bullfinch down here too.

I had one final look at Lynford Water as it got dark - a couple of Little Egrets dropped in and the 2 Goosanders flew down the water in the fading light.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Nar Valley birding

I started out at the local patch this morning where I counted 30 White-fronted Geese - a new record for the site I think.  I then headed across to Narford Lake checking a few other sites on the way with nothing of note.  I'd been past Narford Lake before and looked from the road but hadn't at that point worked out how to get close to view it properly.  Various messages from there recently (thanks to a Great White Egret that I didn't see today) mentioned the church and I found a path leading to the church so tried that.  Good result - the back of the churchyard provides a good enough view of the lake to see the hordes of wildfowl there.  Really good - very impressed!  I counted 350 Pochard, 168 Tufted Duck, 100 Teal, 109 Gadwall, 594 Coot and 28 Mute Swans.  Also 2 Goldeneye among them and a bit more unexpectedly, 2 Bewick's Swans.

Bewick's Swan, Narford Lake, 20th January

Pentney was largely frozen over but there was one ice-free patch of water just big enough to hold 168 Teal.  Also 56 Wigeon feeding on the grass here.  Ashwicken was also largely frozen over but plenty of birds in the ice-free sections including 127 Wigeon, 122 Pochard and 15 Great Crested Grebes.

Mistle Thrush, Ashwicken, 20th January

I had a look round Saddlebow and a couple of bridges south of there which were pretty disappointing.  Slightly better at the bridge at Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalene where a redhead Goosander flew over and 4 Goldeneye were on the river.  I moved on to Tottenhill which again was mainly frozen but a section in the NE corner was crammed full of at least 650 Teal.  A single drake Pintail was the only bird of note I could find until a first-winter White-fronted Goose dropped in to join the Greylags.

Teal, Tottenhill, 20th January

A flock of 21 Whooper Swans were in a field north of Wissington Beet Factory and a Red Kite flew over.  At the factory I disturbed 3 Redshanks from the pool above the fishing lakes - they reminded me of the last time I saw Redshank at Wissington Beet Factory - June 1991 when one was accompanied by a Terek Sandpiper.  I took the footpath running through the factory from which I could see good numbers of Shoveler and Teal in one of the lagoons.  A Cetti's Warbler was calling nearby. Just south of the beet factory was another field of swans - this time 110 Whooper Swans and 9 Bewick's Swans.

Finally I stopped to have a look down a footpath along Methwold Lode.  A small muddy path alongside a small insignificant ditch didn't promise much at its start.  I was about to turn round and abandon the idea when I noticed a bit of water through the trees.  It was frozen and I couldn't see any birds on it, but this it looked like a significant amount of water that wasn't showing on the map.  I carried on if only to investigate.  As the path opened out I looked north across the ditch to a great bit of habitat I had no idea existed.  I think it's called High Fen.  The footpath itself reminded me of paths at Lakenheath or Denver Sluice - regular hawthorns along a grassy ridge with a dyke to one side and arable fields to the other - plenty of Fieldfare and Long-tailed Tits at the moment, but I bet its full of Lesser Whitethroat song come the end of April.

Long-tailed Tit, Methwold Lode, 20th January

Looking north across the dyke was a series of wet meadows.  Lots of Lapwing there, a flock of Golden Plover and several raptors hunting including 2 Marsh Harriers, Buzzard, Kestrel and (further off) Red Kite.  Several Snipe were flushing, either from just across the dyke, presumably by me, or by the raptors - there must have been far more present.  A Fox was out there too - interesting to see the reaction of one of the Marsh Harriers when it ran up to it, without realising it was there I think - the harrier lifted off, flew round low over the fox but not really looking like it was going to bother attacking, and then plonked itself down nearby.  Meanwhile the fox carried on as if nothing had happened.  The Marsh Harrier had green wing tags, at least one of which had R7 on - hopefully I'll find out more about it in due course.

Red Fox, High Fen, 20th January

Marsh Harrier "R7", High Fen, 20th January

I bumped into an aged chap who apparently lives in a decrepid boat in the dyke and has his shopping brought to him by the local farmer.  Don't think he gets to talk to many people out there and he tried to make up for it!  I would have liked to have walked on further and spent a bit more time here, but time was pressing on and I needed to be in Norwich for an appointment soon, so I shall have to return here another day.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

A good day with Glaucs and hybrids

I started off at Malthouse and Ranworth Broads yesterday, hoping again to see the Ferruginous Duck-like hybrid and maybe that Scaupy thing I saw at Ranworth Broad last time and couldn't resolve.  There was nothing of note on Malthouse Broad, which was largely frozen over.  Nuthatch was calling, Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming and about 20 Siskins as I headed over to Ranworth Broad.  As I walked out I was serenaded by a singing Mistle Thrush, Kingfisher flew overhead, and so did a Lesser Redpoll.

James Gilroy was there and had seen the Ferruginous-like duck in the channel on the right hand side.  Nice to meet James who had emailed me recently about the duck wondering if I had any insight as to what it might be.  I hadn't really, which was one reason I was keen to see it.  It appeared briefly while we were there, and didn't strike me as looking very much like a Ferruginous Duck - the shape looked good but it seemed to be dark brown, too dark and too lacking in ferruginous tones for even a female Ferruginous.  It was too brief a view though but after a fairly long wait it did eventually come out again, this time allowing a more prolonged view, although I didn't manage any photos.  The head and upperparts (especially the head) really are dark - I have never seen any suggestion that pure Ferruginous Duck can be that dark - or have I just missed it?  At some angles there even seemed to be a slight green sheen to the head - very subtle but I don't think I was imagining it.  I've seen a similar thing on female Tufted Duck before.  Structurally it did look pretty good most of the time - actually the head shape was peaked enough to resemble male Ferruginous Duck, not just female which tends to have a less obvious peak.  But sometimes - quite a few times actually - it looked a bit wrong.  Sometimes it seemed to have a bit of a bump at the back of the head.  Maybe the feathering at the back of the crown was a bit looser than the feathering at the back of the head just below?  At other times this wasn't apparent at all.

Some have suggested it may be a Ferruginous Duck x Baer's Pochard hybrid, apparently common in captivity although I gather DNA analysis of some birds thought to be that hybrid have proved them to be pure Ferruginous after all.  That's not a bad theory and explains the dark head and even the green sheen.  I'm a little surprised there's no Baer's influence in the shape of the belly patch, but maybe that's possible, and I'm not sure my problem with the head shape is really explained by Baer's.  Not sure.

Another possibility I contemplated is that Tufted Duck is involved.  That would in theory explain the head shape although female Ferruginous Duck x Tufted Duck hybrids I've seen before have had a more obvious tuft, albeit much reduced compared to pure Tufted Duck.  Those birds also weren't so structurally good for Ferruginous Duck.

So for now this one isn't resolved, at least not to my satisfaction.

Also on Ranworth Broad were 8 Goldeneye.  I noticed one Tufted Duck with quite a bit of white round the face that looked a bit block-headed for a bit and wondered if that was the bird I'd seen on my previous visit.  It was just a Tufty though, and one of sevearl with a fair bit of white round the bill.  One of them even had white behind the eye - a leucistic bird.

 Tufted Ducks, Ranworth Broad, 18th January

Mallards, Ranworth Broad, 18th January

Ranworth Broad, 18th January

Another 5 Redpolls flew over, this time with deeper calls making me wonder if Mealy were involved though they didn't provide good enough views.  Two Water Rails called and another Kingfisher made an appearance.

I next headed up to Sheringham where straight away I saw two juvenile Glaucous Gulls feeding on a dead seal.

 Glaucous Gull, Sheringham, 18th January

Glaucous Gull, Sheringham, 18th January

One of the Glaucous Gulls flew off east and I headed west to see if the adult Glauc was off the RNLI or that way.  No sign so I headed off to the east end of the prom pausing to look at a confiding Purple Sandpiper.

Purple Sandpiper, Sheringham, 18th January

While I was watching that I met Robin who had seen the adult towards West Runton so I continued on that way.  I hadn't gone very far when I picked up the adult Glaucous Gull and a juvenile flying towards me.

 Glaucous Gull, Sheringham, 18th January

They returned to the dead seal so so did I.

Glaucous Gull, Sheringham, 18th January

A Shag flew past while we were enjoying the Glaucs.

Shag, Sheringham, 18th January

I then drove to Cley ignoring the road closed signs (it was easily passable) where I learned that the sparrow flock had only put in a brief appearance at the Cley Spy feeders.  I walked on to Steve Gantlett's garden knowing that he had still been seeing the hybrid at least up to a few days ago.  After some waiting the anticipated House Sparrow x Tree Sparrow hybrid finally appeared at his feeders.

House Sparrow x Tree Sparrow hybrid, Cley, 18th January

I drove on to Blakeney where I noticed the Herring Gull x Lesser Black-backed Gull hybrid at the duck pond.  Presumably this was the bird that spent last winter here though I hadn't been aware that it had returned this winter.

Herring Gull x Lesser Black-backed Gull hybrid, Blakeney, 18th January

Bayfield Lake failed to deliver anything better than a Sparrowhawk.  I was nevertheless pleased to see 2 Peregrines in a tree towards dusk at another location.  Do unpaired Peregrines roost together, and if not do paired Peregrines at this time of year suggest they might be thinking of breeding nearby?  Dunno.  Perhaps not, it is only January after all, but will be interesting to keep an eye out for them again.

Peregrines, undisclosed location, 18th January

Today I only managed the local patch where the highlight was 26 White-fronted Geese remaining.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

A day in the Broads and the Thetford gull fest

Daily visits to the patch between 10th and 13th produced all or some of the 27 White-fronted Geese each day.  Not much else there apart from a drake Pintail on 12th.

On Saturday I headed to the Broads early on, starting at Malthouse Broad where I hoped to see the bird that's been reported as a Ferruginous Duck.  To me it looked a bit odd in the photos and at least some observers report that it has a dark, even greenish, head, one theory being that it is a hybrid with Baer's Pochard.  Having said that, plenty of competent birders who have actually seen the bird apparently think it looks ok for Ferruginous.  Anyway, I wanted to see it to make up my own mind, and as it's reported to have been there for years and recently has been sitting around by the staithe I thought I'd be in with a pretty good shot.  Sadly not.  There were some Tufted Ducks there, and Coots, but no sign of the target duck.  This Pink-footed Goose was hanging around the car park with Greylags.

Pink-footed Goose, Malthouse Broad, 14th January

A Redpoll flew over, Nuthatch and Marsh Tit were calling and 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers were drumming, but apart from 111 Coots and a handful of Tufties there was precious little on the Broad.  I walked round to Ranworth Broad, just about managing to stay uprright on the ice.  One section of the boardwalk was flooded but I could get round a different way.  Another Marsh Tit was singing and a Water Rail crossed the boardwalk in front of me.

There are often large numbers of ducks off the visitor centre but in the wind today they were taking shelter at the far side of the broad.  Distance combined with wind made picking things out difficult and I would have liked a better view of one female Aythya with a Scaup-like face patch but I couldn't do anything with it.  At least 6 Goldeneye out here.  By the time I walked back to the car a blizzard had started, though that didn't stop a Kingfisher flashing by.

It looked like the snow was stopping and the sun was coming out as I pulled in to Salhouse Broad but by the time I got out of the car a new snow storm had started - finer snow this time, followed by sleet, rain and then big fluffy snow again.  No birds though.  Wroxham Broad was no better so on to Barton Broad where I was pelted by hail.  The highlight here was a good count of 35 Goldeneye.

Having failed to find any Cranes or many geese between Waxham and Horsey I parked at West Somerton with a view to walking out to Martham Broad.  Dave H and Christine were just setting off there too so I walked out with them.  Dave knew of a day-roosting Tawny Owl so we had a look for that - it took some finding but eventually we saw a very much obscured Tawny Owl.  Drenched by more hail I had a look through all the wildfowl on the broad for that rare Aythya.  It didn't take long to sift through them all - all there were was a few Mute Swans and a Cormorant.  As we walked back a large flock of Greylags had gathered in one of the fields and among them were 17 White-fronted Geese.  A Stonechat flicked along beside us as we continued back.

After checking a few likely spots for geese and things with no success I headed to the air strip at Ludham.  There was a flock of 44 Bewick's Swans and 51 Egyptian Geese plus another 4 Bewick's Swans at the far end.

Bewick's Swans, Ludham air strip, 14th January

Had a drive down to St Benet's Abbey - lots of birds down there but nothing notable.  There weren't any wild swans at Ludham Bridge, at least not that I could see, so I continued on to Wroxham Broad.  Gulls were coming in but they were showing no sign of settling at the viewable end of the broad and there was nothing else to look at so I called it a day.

domestic Greylag Goose, Wroxham Broad, 14th January

Sunday was a day off, although I took the scenic route back from Norwich passing the pits at Lyng-Easthaugh where a Geylag Goose x Canada Goose hybrid was seen.  A pause at the bridge at Mill Street produced a nice Kingfisher on a post just beneath us.  The filter beds at Bylaugh sewage works held 2 Chiffchaffs and Bulffinches were seen at Bylaugh and Swanton Morley.  Finally a Sparrowhawk sped past us at Worthing.

On Monday I was tied up until lunch time when I headed down to Thetford where all manner of gulls have been frequenting the Burrell Way industrial estate.  From the reports it sounded like they were all pretty easy, so I was a bit surprised to find myself standing around for quite a while without seeing any interesting gulls at all.  Fortunately it wasn't too long before the Iceland Gull appeared, though initially only in flight.  The first of at least 4 Yellow-legged Gulls also turned up after a while and the Glaucous Gull was seen very briefly in flight.  Eventually the Iceland Gull did show on the rooftops allowing decent views.

Iceland Gull, Thetford, 16th January

I'd been there quite a long time before I picked up a candidate for Caspian Gull on a roof.  I could only see its head and upper body from my position nd I had to move, and so did it, before I could see the whole thing, at which point a green colour ring was evident.  Although I couldn't see the ring letters it looked like the bird carrying ring XDFE, photos of which I had seen in Dawn Balmer's Twitter feed.  This bird was ringed in eastern Germany in 2014 and recorded in Fulham by Josh Jones earlier this month.  Dawn relocated it here in Thetford a few days ago.  It is quite immature so easily confused for a second-winter, but as we know its history we can say for sure that it's in fact a third-winter (fourth calendar-year).  After letting one or two people have a quick look through my telescope I didn't actually get a chance to have as good a look as I would have liked myself, and no photos, as it quickly moved off.  A Grey Wagtail flew over while we were looking.

Yellow-legged Gulls, Thetford, 16th January

I never managed to make a positive ID on this bird.  Saw it a couple of times I think.  At first I wondered if it was a Yellow-legged Gull, but I don't think so.  Adult Yellow-legged Gulls present had clean white heads and bright yellow legs - this bird's legs were sort of pinky yellow.  Not sure it was a full adult mind.  The upperparts seemed a shade dark for Herring Gull (not necessarily for argentatus though) and it had quite an obvious bright red orbital ring.  I'm not convinced it isn't just a Herring Gull, but wonder if it might be a hybrid (Herring Gull x Lesser Black-backed or x Yellow-legged I suppose)?  Please shout if you have any insight.

unidentified gull, Thetford, 16th January

By the time I'd finished it was too late to go and look for Hawfinches and later than I would have wanted to look at gulls around Livermere so instead I headed back via a few spots in the north-east Brecks.  Nothing much doing here - just a Brambling at The Arms.

This morning I had a look round Sparham Pools, a site I used to visit regularly but haven't been to for ages.  Marsh Tit and Siskin were calling in the car park.  The main pool was mostly frozen but there were a few duck around the edges including a single Wigeon and a handful of Teal.  A Water Rail called from one of the pits to the east.  A Little Egret was by the river and a Kingfisher by the boardwalk to Walsis' Farm (later seen on the river further on).  Another Water Rail called round here and a Stock Dove was singing.  Returning to the main pool and taking the path round the lakes viewable to the east held unusually high numbers of birds including around 100 Tufted Ducks.  A Treecreeper was in the corner and back at the car park a Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling.

Still at least one Chiffchaff at Bylaugh sewage treatment works, and Siskin.