From Iceland and Siberia to Norfolk

Tom and I have just spent two nights and two days in Norfolk.  We missed loads of birds – some because we couldn’t get there in time (Ferruginous Duck), others because they weren’t where they were supposed to be when we did get there (Snow Bunting, Water Pipit).  But this is Norfolk – and even if you miss a few birds, you still end up having a fantastic time and seeing a large number of different species – we beat our day record with 74 species on the first day!

This trip turned out to be special in another way too – we found our first “rarity” without outside help.  OK – most birders aren’t going to get too excited by this one, but we believe the bird below is an Icelandic Redwing – a subspecies of Redwing that isn’t often reported on the East coast as far as we can tell.  It has much darker markings on its breast, and the paler areas of the head are yellow rather than white.  It landed within 5 yards of us and wasn’t at all bothered by us staring at it.  I’m glad I bought the Challenge Series:  Winter book a few months ago, as before then I’d never heard of this subspecies.  Even if it isn’t accepted as an Icelandic,  we certainly enjoyed the excitement of finding it.

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But I’m telling the story of the weekend in the wrong order.  We stayed at Briarfields Hotel which is almost next door to Titchwell, so we were on the reserve very quickly after breakfast.  We tried to hurry along the path to the beach as Long-tailed Ducks had been reported offshore all week, but we kept getting delayed by other birds – Bramblings on the feeders and Bar-tailed Godwits feeding in the mud to name but two.  In the end, we only got brief glimpses of two male Long-tailed Ducks as the flock had moved a little further west that day, but the Velvet Scoters and a huge raft of Common Scoter made up for it.  On the way back to the Visitors Centre for lunch we were again held up by more birds, including  a Peregrine buzzing the waders.

Titchwell can take up most of your day if you aren’t careful, but we were glad we made it Holme in the afternoon, otherwise we’d have missed the Redwing.  We got back to the hotel quite worn out, but on a high after such a good day – Tom was especially pleased to have had a Robin feed out of his hand and to make the acquaintance of “Mr Seagull” who followed us up and down Titchwell beach.

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On the Sunday, we drove east along the coast to Holkham.  In took us a while to get out of the car park – there were huge numbers of geese, ducks and snipe feeding in the fields either side, some just a few yards from the cars.

The bird that took the most effort to see was undoubtedly the Shore Lark.  Rather than being at the end of the boardwalk at Holkham Gap, the flock had decided to move around a mile further west – quite a hike over sand whilst carrying two scopes.  It was worth it when we got there though – 31 of them around a couple of pools on the sand about 20 yards away.  Tom’s reaction when getting the telescope on them for the first time sums them up:  “Wow – look at their faces!  They are my new favourite British bird!”.  We’ve never seen so many together and even though they came quite close, I only managed a poor record shot.  In fact, it was so poor, I’ve decided to replace it with a shot of the boardwalk at Holkham.  Tom has renamed all the trees in this area as “Norfolk Pines” – an appropriate name for them I think.

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As you can see, the weather was stunning for January – so when we got to Cley we actually ate our lunch outside, before hurrying off to see if we could find the Siberian Chiffchaff that had been haunting the reeds beside the East Bank.  Just think about why it is called that for a moment.  I’ve never been to Siberia – maybe it is actually quite a pleasant place in summer – but I still struggle to understand how such a tiny bird could survive there and then have enough energy to fly all the way here!

We had to wait nearly an hour (although we were entertained by a Glaucous Gull, Marsh Harriers and a Smew whilst waiting), but it did eventually turn up.  These are subtly different from our Common Chiffchaff being quite a bit greyer.  However I’d never have been able to work this one out on my own – so the ID of the bird below is completely reliant on others!

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We then had to regretfully head home, even though more exciting birds kept arriving on my phone.  As we passed the “Welcome to Suffolk” sign on the way home, Tom said he wanted to live in Norfolk.  I tried to cheer him up by saying that most birders would be very happy to live in Suffolk, if only because getting to Norfolk was so easy!

Local Patch versus Nature Reserves

At the end of last year I decided that I really ought to spend more time birding on my local patch rather than on nature reserves that I need to drive to.  So how have we done in January?

Local patch:  3 visits

Nature reserves:  Abberton Reservoir, Knettishall Heath, Lynford Arboretum, Titchwell, Holme, Holkham, Cley, Old Hall Marshes (with Dave), Alton Water, Sutton Heath, Bawdsey East Lane and North Warren

Total bird species seen:  127 (last year (our best year to date) we got to this number on 20th March).

Seems we just couldn’t resist!

Suffolk Swifts

The first blog of 2017, and with a complete disregard for the season, I’ve chosen swifts as the topic.  These birds are big news in Suffolk at the moment as they are the subject of a Save Our Suffolk (SOS) Swifts campaign which started to gather momentum last year.  Swifts are now on the Amber list in the UK due to a 38% drop in their breeding population over the last 25 years.

Fifteenth of May. Cherry blossom. The swifts
Materialize at the tip of a long scream
Of needle. ‘Look! They’re back! Look!’ And they’re gone
On a steep

Controlled scream of skid
Round the house-end and away under the cherries. Gone.

They are one of the last of our summer visitors to return, and one of the first to leave.  In fact they stay in Britain for less than four months – and yet we think of them as British birds.  Last year I remember standing enthralled (with Tom) at Abberton Reservoir as literally hundreds of swifts swooped low over our heads.  We forgot the waders, ducks and geese that we’d come to see, and were mesmerised for ages by the spectacle.

It is about at this point that I’d normally include a photo – but have you ever tried to take a photo of a swift?  In January in Suffolk?   So instead I’ll have to use a copy of Suffolk Ornithologists’ Group’s new business card which just happens to have a swift on it.

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The main push in Suffolk is to get as many swift nest boxes up on as many buildings as possible.  I put up two last year (you can get them from a chap in Ely for just £13), but didn’t see a swift come near them – probably because I didn’t go as far as playing their calls from near the boxes.  Four more boxes have just arrived and are about to go up on the other end of our house and hopefully this year I’ll get around to making the call kit too.  Not too sure how my neighbours will react, but we’ll see.

Round luckier houses now
They crowd their evening dirt-track meetings,

Racing their discords, screaming as if speed-burned,
Head-height, clipping the doorway
With their leaden velocity and their butterfly lightness,
Their too much power, their arrow-thwack into the eaves.

We aren’t the first country to play calls to swifts to attract them to nest sites on our buildings.  On the BBC’s Thailand:  Earth’s Tropical Paradise programme, there was a small section about the Edible Swiftlet – whose nests are one of the most expensive bird products on the planet – they are eaten in China as Bird’s Nest soup (the nests are made out of the bird’s saliva which seems a weird thing to want to eat).  Harvesting these nests high up in dark caves isn’t exactly a dream job, so there are now buildings constructed to house these swiftlets.  The nests are harvested after the swiftlets have fledged, so this should benefit the swiftlet population too.  And yes – blaring out from loudspeakers on all sides of these buildings in the middle of Asian towns are the recorded calls of these birds.

And here they are, here they are again
Erupting across yard stones
Shrapnel-scatter terror. Frog-gapers,
Speedway goggles, international mobsters

Swifts spend nearly all their lives on the wing and can travel crazy distances in a lifetime.  Everyone knows about the long distance journeys of Arctic Terns and the speed of the Peregrine, but the Swift comes close to matching BOTH of these birds (in fact it is the fastest bird in level flight).  Given that adult birds aren’t ready to breed until their third or fourth year, their first few years are spent entirely on the wing, and some estimates suggest that they could travel half a million miles in that time.  That is nearly as many miles as I’ve done commuting to work.  Shame our trains don’t always match the 70mph that swifts have been recorded doing.

Their latin name is Apus apus and “apus” actually means “footless” – their legs are so short, they do appear to live up to this description.  That said, adult birds can take off from flat surfaces, but sometimes young birds will struggle.

Every year a first-fling, nearly flying
Misfit flopped in our yard,
Groggily somersaulting to get airborne.
He bat-crawled on his tiny useless feet, tangling his flails

Like a broken toy, and shrieking thinly
Till I tossed him up — then suddenly he flowed away under
His bowed shoulders of enormous swimming power,
Slid away along levels wobbling

Ted Hughes sums them up brilliantly, but doesn’t cover everything in his poem.  He leaves out the bit about louse-fly infestations.

Magical Manningtree light

It was such a beautiful winter’s day today, that I had to take Tom’s camera to the River Stour.  The combination of a rising tide that pushed all the waders and ducks towards the shore, a completely calm day leaving the surface of the river almost mirror-like and the sort of light that you only get with the low winter sun, gave me a chance to get some half-decent photographs.  Here are my favourites.

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The River Stour is fantastic for ducks in the winter – we counted at least 500 Wigeon on Cattawade Marsh over Christmas, and they are joined by large numbers of Teal and Shelduck, with smaller numbers of Gadwall and Goldeneye.  The Pintail has to be the handsomest of the lot though.  The bird above is a typical male, but the bird below has me a little confused – it clearly looks like a Pintail, but isn’t quite right (for instance – compare the bill and breast to the other pictures).  I’m assuming it is either a first winter, or some sort of hybrid or perhaps a male that hasn’t completed its moult yet.

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One more – I really love these birds!

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The Stour isn’t just good for ducks – there are plenty of waders as well.  I’d missed most of them at Manningtree as when the tide gets too high they tend to fly from the Essex shore to the Suffolk side of the river.  There isn’t much room between the road and the river at Manningtree in Essex, whereas on the Suffolk side they are less likely to be disturbed.

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In fact there was just one Redshank left (above) and a small group of Turnstone (below).

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I then moved a few hundred yards east to see what was at Mistley Quay, and was rewarded with nice views of Goldeneye and a fairly close Red-breasted Merganser (below).

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Finally – gulls.  A lot of people don’t find gulls very exciting, but when you look closely, I think they are stunningly beautiful.  The Black-headed Gulls at Mistley come within a few feet:

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There were other gulls around as well, including this Common Gull (in front of some preening female Pintail):

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And now for something completely different – yesterday we were quite excited to see a Short-eared Owl hunting over Cattawade.   We watched it for 20 minutes or so before it started circling higher and higher along with two Jackdaw.  It wasn’t clear who was chasing whom, but we eventually lost them all as they got too high to see.  I am pretty sure that the post it is sitting on in the rather poor record shot below is one of the posts that I removed the wire netting from recently whilst volunteering with the RSPB – looks like I missed a bit.

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So that is it for 2016 – we finished on 211 species for the year – 11 species better than any previous year.   And incredibly, 200 of those were in East Anglia (Norfolk, Suffolk, North Essex and a tiny bit of Cambridgeshire).

But in 2017 we’ll be changing our focus and spending more time on our local patch and a bit less time driving to nature reserves.  I expect we’ll still be tempted by the occasional rarity though!

Happy New Year!

Scaup are safe on Sundays

On Sunday, we went to Abberton Reservoir to try to find some Scaup.  We failed.  I then saw on twitter that this Lesser Scaup with a nasal saddle had been shot in Northern Ireland (photo not mine obviously):

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All this got me thinking – what on earth is a nasal saddle anyway?  Can Lesser Scaup be legally shot?

Scaup are part of the Aythya group of ducks, of which six could reasonably be said to be found in the UK:

  • Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)
  • Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris)
  • Ferruginous Duck (Aythya nyroca)
  • Common Pochard (Aythya ferina)
  • (Greater) Scaup (Aythya marila)
  • Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)

Birds in Britain are protected by multiple pieces of legislation, one of which being the Birds Directive which applies across Europe.  Annex 1 of the Birds Directive lists species for which “special conservation measures concerning their habitat” must be taken.  Annex 2 on the other hand, lists species that may be hunted.  The latter Annex is split into Part A (birds that can be hunted across Europe) and Part B (birds that can only be hunted in the specified member states).

Only the Ferruginous Duck appears in Annex 1, with Pochard and Tufted Duck appearing in Annex 2 (Part A).   Scaup appear in Annex 2 Part B – they can be hunted in 10 of the 27 EU countries, including the UK.   I’m not a legal expert, but if Lesser Scaup aren’t included in Annex 2, then it would seem that they can’t be hunted.  Perhaps it was a case of mistaken identity, although hunters really should be sure of what they are shooting before shooting it.

The UK’s Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 also contains a list of birds that can be hunted or that should be protected.  Scaup are listed in Part 1 of Schedule 1 of this Act and are therefore protected at all times (although the BASC website suggests that this doesn’t apply to Northern Ireland).  Pochard and Tufted Duck are listed in Schedule 2 as birds that can be taken, but it appears they cannot be taken on Sundays or Christmas Day.

What about the status of these birds in the UK?  In the UK we have the “Birds of Conservation Concern” (BOCC) report to guide us on the status of all breeding and over-wintering birds.  It uses a simple traffic light system to categorise birds – Scaup and Pochard are on the Red List as of December 2015 (the Pochard having just been added), with Tufted Duck on the Green List.  The other three ducks don’t commonly occur in the UK and so aren’t assessed under BOCC.  Neither Scaup nor Pochard have significant breeding populations, but they do over-winter in reasonable numbers, but under EU legislation they can still be shot!  Surely the law should be changed so that any bird on the Red List cannot be hunted.  Perhaps it will be following Brexit.

Internationally, the IUCN classification system is used, and the Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck and Tufted Duck are classified as “Least Concern”, Ferruginous Duck as “Near Threatened”, but the Common Pochard is no longer living up to its name and is classified as “Vulnerable”.  But they can still be shot.  Except on Sundays.

Getting back to the original point of this blog – in turns out that the Lesser Scaup has an estimated global population of around 6 million birds and these are spread over a large area (much of North America).  So shooting a vagrant in Northern Ireland isn’t an issue in terms of the numbers of Lesser Scaup.  But that brings me on to the nasal saddle – this is an alternative to ringing a bird and allows the bird to be fairly easily tracked – the saddle is easily visible and has the advantage of spending more time above the water line than the bird’s legs.  It isn’t clear whether wearing a saddle causes the bird a problem – a study in the 1970s of Ruddy Ducks in Canada found that saddled ducks spent more time scratching the saddle rather than performing the other activities that non-saddled ducks performed, and they were also less likely to mate.

It is a shame that a rare bird that was giving pleasure to hundreds of birdwatchers each year and was contributing to our knowledge of the species is now no longer with us.

Twitcher or Birder?

For a long time I have tried to avoid being labelled as a “twitcher” – being a “birder” suggests a deeper interest in birds rather than a primary interest in listing.  However my behaviour on Saturday may have leant towards the twitching end of the spectrum.  We’d had a late lunch due to Tom’s football match and I was just checking my emails when I saw an email about a Forster’s tern at Mistley.  In other words – a bird I’d never heard of had appeared just 5 minutes drive away in an area that I used to count for WEBS!  Without any hesitation, Tom and I jumped up, shouted up to Jessica that we were off to Mistley and within about 3 minutes were in the car and on our way.  We were about the 5th car to arrive but by the time we left about an hour and a half later, half of the Essex and Suffolk birders must have turned up.  I don’t know what the residents thought, although some did ask what was going on and were pleased to be able to see the bird.  It was nice to hear a car screech to a halt behind us and see a worried birder jump out to ask us if it was still here, and to be able to point at a bird 20 yards in front of us that had just plunged into the river after a fish and tell them – yep – there it is!

I didn’t get a photo – too busy watching the bird and chatting to the people that I recognised.  One of those was Chris Courtney who runs the RSPB Ipswich group – and he took this fantastic image (Chris – if you ever read this, I hope you don’t mind that I used it).  Tom named it the pirate tern after its eye-patch.

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That is bird number 249 on Tom’s UK list and number 210 on our 2016 list.  I’m not a twitcher – honest!

 

Cliff Swallow or Greenshank?

No – I didn’t get a Cliff Swallow muddled with a Greenshank – even Tom wouldn’t accuse me of that!   We did see both of these species at the weekend however.

On Saturday we joined around 750 other birders and twitchers at Minsmere to see the mainland UK’s first Cliff Swallow for over a decade – this was actually one of the North American species that we were hoping to see on our Nova Scotia trip, but they’d largely gone by the time we got there at the end of August.  The RSPB had kindly opened up a bit of land that is normally out of bounds to allow everyone a good look at the bird.   It is actually quite easy to pick out even in flight as it has a completely square tail – all the British hirundines have forked tails.  I didn’t even attempt to get a photograph, but wished I’d taken one of the crowds as they all lifted their binoculars higher and higher as the bird flew over their heads until they were looking almost vertically upwards!

On Sunday, Tom had a party to go to, which meant I had a few hours to spend on my local patch.  At the bridge over the Stour at Cattawade there were 7 Snipe feeding out in the open, 2 Kingfishers, plenty of Wigeon and Teal, and a rather nice Greenshank.

Greenshank - Cattawade

Whilst watching the Greenshank, I realised that I was getting as much enjoyment out of this bird as I did out of the Cliff Swallow – and, rather embarrassingly, knew about as much about Greenshanks as I did about Cliff Swallows.  Hence the title of this blog.

There is an advantage to not knowing things – it gives you the chance to do some reading!  These days of course, Google makes this easy, but for a change I thought I’d piece together information from books, starting with the various bird guides I’ve accumulated over the years – I appear to own 11 of these so far, but I am sure I’ll buy more in the near future.

As I think I’ve mentioned previously in this blog, the “Readers Digest Book of British Birds” (1969) was the book that sparked my childhood interest in birds, but I still have three guides from those early days, the others being “The Hamlyn Guide to Birds of Britain and Europe” (1978) and “Birds of Britain and Europe” from Pan Books (1980).

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They all say roughly the same thing about where British Greenshanks breed (the Flow Country and Scottish Highlands) and about their passage migrant status in the rest of Britain.

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There is then quite a gap in my bird guide collection, reflecting my changes of interest once I became a teenager with beer money – my next guides date from the year 2000 and beyond.  The main change seems to be that they show more Greenshanks on the east coast as passage migrants, and in fact one of them goes as far as saying that any southern estuary should yield multiple birds in the winter.

The Bird Atlas partially supports this view – showing a 48% range expansion in the winter over the last 40 years or so – particularly in the south and east, but stops short of suggesting they are easy to find.

I was hoping that the Migration Atlas would tell me where my Stour birds were most likely to have come from, but unfortunately there aren’t enough ringing recoveries, despite the best efforts of the French shooters.  They could be Scottish birds on their way to their wintering sites in south-west Europe (including the UK) and Africa.  But given that Scottish birds leave their breeding sites by late August (the breeding females leave even earlier), it is more likely the birds on the Stour are passing through on their way from Northern Europe.

The good news is that according to Birdlife International, the global Greenshank population is stable (at somewhere between 0.5m to 1.5m birds) and it has a large range so isn’t dependent on particular locations – it is therefore classed as being of “Least Concern”.

Another wader

A few hundred yards beyond the road bridge I came across a second Greenshank (the first time I’ve seen two almost together in this area) and also a ridiculous number of Little Egrets packed into a 50 yard stretch of river.  This photo shows most of them but there were actually 26 in total.  Hopefully the winter roost at Flatford all be packed later this year!

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The Little Egret appears in the “Guide to rarer birds” section of the Readers Digest guide and is given perhaps a twelfth of a page.  In my 2004 edition of the “Collins Complete Guide to British Birds”, it has a full half page in the main section – a clear sign of its amazingly fast colonisation of the UK.

The Little Egret is another wader whose population is stable and large, and which is found in many different areas of the world.  So I think I’ll end here on a positive note, without going into the hundreds of bird species that are struggling – not least the Woodcock in the UK which unbelievably it is still legal to shoot!  Damn – now I’ve ended on a negative note and I was feeling so positive after Planet Earth 2 as well …

 

Cornwall

Although our half-term trip to Cornwall wasn’t primarily a bird-watching trip (at least, that is what we told Jessica), we did manage to fit in quite a few visits to areas that according to http://www.birdguides.com had just happened to have some interesting birds the previous day.  That said, it is surprisingly difficult to find rarer birds in a county that you are not familiar with, even with the help of something like birdguides.  For example – “Yellow-browed warbler at Land’s End” – well, once we’d paid the £6 for the car park, fought our way through the crowds queuing for doughnuts, ice-creams and the latest 4D cinema experience, and made it to the end of England, we still had no idea where to look for the warblers.  Fortunately, the £6 proved worthwhile, as we did see our only Choughs of the holiday there.

We started and finished our holiday with a walk around the headland that includes Godrevy Point.  This was just a few miles from our holiday lodge, and it provided the most enjoyable walks of our week, and some of the best birds too, including our first Merlin, Shag and Raven of the year and, rather surprisingly, a solitary Whooper Swan flying in off the sea.  We also had good views of a tremendous male Black Redstart and the field next to the car park contained a flock of at least 25 Rock Pipit (and a similar number of Meadow Pipit) – more than I’ve ever seen together before.  They were remarkably tolerant of humans, allowing us to get close enough for a photo:

Rock Pipit - Godrevy in Cornwall

Our boat trip from Falmouth promised great things as the weather was beautiful when we left and the sea was perfectly calm (unlike Jessica in the passenger seat on the M25) – however it turned out to be the first trip for three months on which no dolphins were seen.  A sea fret didn’t help things, but at least we added Puffin, Guillemot, Razorbill and Manx Shearwater to our 2016 bird list.

The Hayle Estuary would have been a great place to watch birds if it wasn’t for the fact that we had to stand next to a busy road for much of it.  Spoonbill and a possible Franklin’s Gull were the highlights, but there were also good numbers of waders and other gulls.  I particularly like this Lapwing scene taken by Jessica:

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Now on to one of the birding highlights of the week.  Our first attempt to find the Dalmation Pelican had failed – we had set out across the mud of the Camel Estuary before being warned by a couple of returning birders (one of whom was Lucy McRobert who is somewhat famous in birding circles) that the Pelican was at least an hour’s walk and the tide was coming in.  Fortunately, we had time later in the week to walk some of the Camel Trail and managed to find the bird fairly easily.  Given its size, once you were on the right bit of river, it was hard to miss!

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We can’t be sure whether the above bird is a wild bird (although it is probably from a colony from Greece or further east), but it is apparently the same bird that was seen in Poland in April where it has generally been accepted as being a wild bird (it has been in England since May).   We probably should wait until the BOURC have made a decision on whether this bird is likely to be wild or an escapee before adding this to our list,  but we are not going to – making the Pelican our 205th bird of 2016!  We’ve already beaten our previous annual record of 200 and it is still only October.

There were a few failures – no Yellow-browed Warblers even though the UK has been inundated with 100s of them this autumn, and we missed the Hudsonian Whimbrel that has been in Cornwall for several months.  There was also very little to see at Marazion Marsh, although this Little Egret came quite close:

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Almost wildlife

Although this blog is meant to be about wildlife, I had to include at least one photo from Feadon Farm.  This was located within the holiday park and run by a chap called Gary who clearly loved all his animals.  Many of the animals there had been rescued, including some foxes that were tame enough for us to feed by hand.  There were badger setts on site, which meant we could watch badgers from a hide in the evening.  And there were owls!  I’m not sure, but I think Tom enjoyed the experience!

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Back home

It is always nice to get back home and be able to walk your own patch again.  It is even nicer when a Black-bellied Dipper turns up a few miles away and you have time to go to see it!   This isn’t a different species to our “British” Dipper – it is simply the Scandinavian race.  Our dippers don’t migrate – they stay in Scotland, Yorkshire, Devon and wherever else there are suitably fast-flowing streams.  They definitely don’t turn up in Suffolk!  The Black-bellied Dipper on the other hand does migrate – from its breeding grounds in Norway and Sweden, to its wintering quarters in Finland and Germany.  So sometimes they get blown off course, and judging by reports on birdguides.com we tend to get one or two each year.  As a friend (who happened to be watching the Dipper when we got there) pointed out, they’ve probably never seen humans before (living as they do in remote parts of Scandinavia), which explains why this bird was happy feeding literally yards away from the small group of birders and photographers who were watching it.

Black-bellied Dipper 3 - Needham

The bird proved remarkably hard to digiscope as it moved its head incredibly quickly (even if it largely stayed on the same spot whilst doing so).  I have a whole set of photos of a dipper with its head under water and another set of a dipper facing the other way, or with its head under its wing preening.  I don’t have a photo of a dipper eating a small fish, which it did several times whilst we were watching it.

Bird number 206!

Suffolk Twitch

I’ve just realised I’ve not posted anything here since we got back from Canada over a month ago, but fortunately we’ve just had a spectacular weekend at home in Suffolk, so now is the time to remedy that!

It started on Saturday when I decided to ignore all advice and go for a walk on my sprained ankle.  I initially had planned to stick to the wide, flat and even paths around Flatford, but of course once I got down there I couldn’t resist continuing on to Dazeley Lane to see what was on the fields bordering the river.  As I approached a kissing gate at the edge of the National Trust land, a black bird flew out of the hedge beside me and landed in some brambles in front of me.  It was making a deep tuc-tuc-tuc call and I immediately thought “that is a funny Blackbird”.  Then another flew out from the same bush making the same call, and my “funny Blackbird” turned into a “OMG its a Ring Ouzel!”.   This was my first Ring Ouzel on my local patch and this gave me much more pleasure than driving to the coast to find one would have done (I’d been trying to tempt Tom to go to Landguard earlier in the day).

Of course, I then had to call Tom who had to persuade Mum to drive him down the road to the footpath so he could come and join me …

On Sunday my ankle told me that I probably shouldn’t have gone out on the Saturday.  But the winds had been coming in from the east or north-east and it was clearly a day when we had to go to the coast.  I am eternally grateful that I am blessed with a son who doesn’t mind getting in the car at 7:10am to head off to Minsmere and is then happy to spend an hour to two staring into a bush trying to find a tiny migrant warbler!

Minsmere delivered our first lifer of the day – a Purple Sandpiper.  Any birder reading this will be laughing at the fact that we’d never seen one of these before, but for some reason we’d never managed to be on the right bit of coast during their winter stay.  Unlike other sandpipers, you don’t often find these inland or on marshes and estuaries.  The photo below was digiscoped on a 4 year old mobile phone, so is definitely in the “record shot only” category.

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Just before the Purple Sandpiper we’d found a summer plumaged Red-throated Diver (which to be honest, was almost more exciting than the Sandpiper).  This bird wasn’t 200 yards offshore either – it was about 10 yards offshore!  We had fantastic views but unfortunately digiscoping it proved too difficult as it rarely surfaced for more than 10 seconds.  And just before that, we found our first Redwings of the year – so autumn is definitely officially here!

After Minsmere, we headed off to Thorpeness to see if we could find a Yellow-browed Warbler as several had been seen there in the last few days.  We didn’t manage to find one, but we did get nice views of a Redpoll and quite a few Blackcaps.  Then David Walsh called to say he was on his way to Bawdsey as  Pallas’s Warbler had been found.  By this point my ankle was quite sore, but Tom begged me to take him.  In the end I said we’d head back to Woodbridge and if David texted (or an email went out on Bird Guides) before we got there to say the bird was still around, we’d take the detour to Bawdsey.  Of course, a text from David arrived as soon as we got in the car, so off to Bawdsey we went.

And I am very very glad we went!  Although we spent quite a long time looking into a hedge (along with quite a few other birders), our patience was eventually rewarded when the bird came out to the front and top of the hedge and gave us excellent (if brief) views.  I had no idea they were so stunning.  If you want to see just how stunning, have a look at this picture taken at Bawdsey by one of the people there at the same time as us:

http://www.rarebirdalert.co.uk/realdata/gallery_show.asp?galleryid=45061&page=1&sort=4&PhotoBy=14503

So – two lifers in one day – not something that happens often any more.   These birds also move Tom on to 195 for the year, within sight of our 200 target.  And Tom’s UK list now stands at 246 species.

Orford Ness

A few weeks earlier, we were lucky enough to be able to spend the night on Orford Ness with a group of other SOG members and then spent the whole of the next day birding on the Ness as well.

I feel this blog has been a little light on photos, so here is an early morning shot taken just after leaving our bunkhouse:

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We were the only group there, and were treated to a flock of 25 Spoonbill, more Whinchats than I’ve ever seen in a day before, a hunting Barn Owl, a lovely Common Redstart and plenty more. The company was great too, which makes a big difference to the enjoyment of a day. The more time I spend birding in Suffolk, the more friendly, knowledgable, enthusiastic and caring people I meet.  It restores my faith in humankind after spending a day reading about Trump, or Syria, or Brexit or pretty much any other story that makes the newspapers these days.

And now, to finish, here is a completely random shot of Pied-billed Grebes taken on the way back to the airport in Nova Scotia.

Pied-billed Grebe