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Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Much better Richard III documentary on More4

I greatly enjoyed the "Richard III: the Unseen Story" which premiered tonight on More4, (this is repeated on Saturday 2 March on More4 at 9pm if you missed it!). Much of the programme was rehashed but it was almost as if they had taken on board my criticisms of the original programme, the histrionics of the President of the Richard III society, Phillippa Langley, had been cut right out this time and the programme correctly concentrated on the actual archaeology of the find. The same presenter, Simon Farnaby, came across better in this revised documentary, with the unfortunate intended (?) comedic elements (we are not presenting Horrible Histories now!) totally absent this time. It was fascinating to look in detail at the historic and archaeological research which led to them digging several trenches in the car park of Leicester's Social services department. The whole team are to be congratulated on a stunning magnificent find. I was fascinated hearing about the maternal mitocondrial DNA testing used, hand in hand, with historic genealogical research, confirming that Canadian born furniture maker Mr Michael Ibsen, was a greatX nephew of King Richard III. However, I was surprised to see the Osteo- Archaeologist, Dr Jo Appleby, use a pick axe to rather heavy handedly excavate the immediate site despite leg bones being found in close proximity to the area she was excavating, leading to a very unfortunate piecing of Richard III's skull, with the pick axe!! Surely a more careful approach was warranted?? Also, I thought it would have been far better not to reveal the suspected identity of the skull to a face reconstruction artist to counter any suggestions of bias in the facial results.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Great Grey Shrike & Hawfinch at last!

Arriving at the GG Shrike site turning west at Wrentham then turning south past the church at the crossroads. Driving south down Guildhall Lane for a mile, I saw several cars parked at the side of the road and I eventually walked across and joined the small throng of birders watching the Shrike on a distant tree. The excellent Great Grey Shrike was perched on top of a tree in the distance lining the hedgerow on the southern edge of a field. It then flew down and perched in the hedge. Going a little closer, but stiking to the public footpath, the bird flew up to the tall tree again. It later flew over the hedge and was seen perched on the other side of the hedge. It then flew over to the trees bordering the road before flying back to its original tree. There was some talk of the bird maybe being of the southern race as it appeared to have a white throat and greyish wash on the upper chest. Although I didn't observe these features in the field and was only visible from John R's pictures (who I met for the first time today) when he had gone really close to photograph it. Chris B also arrived. Seeing Paul & Jane F, Roger, Morris and later Chris B. I decided to follow Paul & Jane F to Sotterley. It was bitterly cold there and we also saw Tony B & Daphne. Roy & Ruth H also joined us and in the dell a Nuthatch showed well on a knarled tree 15 foot up on the middle of the thick trunk and briefly on the ground too. A Marsh Tit was seen here too. A visit to the church was notable for the bitterly cold wind and display of flowering Snowdrops at the churchyard. back at the Dell, we were informed the inevitable had happened, the Hawfinch had been seen during our walk to the church and I had missed this yet again. However, this disappointment didn't last long as we were walking along the eastern edge of the lodge by the dell, 2 Redwings were seen here briefly in flight. A very sharp eyed Jane said "What's this?" implying this could be the bird and it was! A fantastic male Hawfinch perched on top a tall tree on the west side of the road by the bungalow with bird feeders. What a bird, with a humongous bill and subtle chestnut, brown grey shades to its attractive plumage, a very welcome sight after 28 previous visits without success!! I was literally numb with shock with finally seeing this species here, I've only seen one in the Dell previously in the last century! It showed well here for several minutes before 2 bird photographers (but not me!) flushed it by walking over far too close to it and onto the road to photograph it. It then flew to a tall tree by the lodge beside us, but I couldn't see it, until it flew out and flew south- east and out of sight. Meanwhile by the feeders, a Marsh Tit flew in and showed well very briefly. Wren seen in the garden, later.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Waxwings still around

On Thursday 21st February, 13 Long- tailed Tits seen early morning in the garden. At 8.40am in the morning of the 22nd february, as I was preparing to leave for work, I heard a Redwing call and saw it fly north directly over the house. Back at work at Great Yarmouth Library today Friday 22nd February, initially I didn't see any Waxwings but some seen perched on a distant TV aerial near Tolhouse Strret and 3 flying over to the berry bush initially revealed 9 of their number. A load of Starlings around 150 were about too and when all the birds took to flight, the Waxwings flew too (appeared to go towards Nottingham way) a few minutes later at 12 noon, 14 Waxwings flew back perched on a distant tree and up to 5 at a time flew over to the Library berry bush. The didn't stay long and flew east again. A 5 minute look over Filby Broad revealed the high pitched squeeking of a very vocal Kingfisher perched on a white stained ledge by the bridge. It promptly flew left, while out on broad were 9 Goldeneye, (4 male and 5 female).

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Waxwings & Fieldfare still at the Library

Arriving at Great Yarmouth Library today at around 9.15am, I was greeted by a wonderful flock of around 30 Waxwings in the trees by the edge of the car park and the talk trees by the Row 111 houses. Several of their number flew down to the berry bush feeding. The Fieldfare was around too. When children ran up a nearby staircase, all 30 Waxwings flew back to the trees by Row 111 houses and the Fieldfare also flew out and back to the tree too. My views of the birds were restricted to tea & lunch breaks, eventually the Waxwings were back with some of them, usually around 13 perched on the tree by the Library car park. Having to leave at 10.40am, the 13 were seen again and throughout the afternoon. This sub group of 13 Waxwings were in the near tree again and regularly flying to the berry bush but usually feeding just out of sight from the staff room window. My only photos of the Waxwings, were poor silhouetted shots from early morning (looking due east, not ideal!), this isn't really the best place for photography and is very difficult too with a blocks of flats so close by. At one time, the Fieldfare was feeding almost out in the open but disappeared into the middle of the bush when the camera came out! Finally, at 4.30pm when I left the 13 Waxwings were still around in the distant trees by the Row 111 houses put off by 2 loud talking hoodies loitering around the edge of the car park and the berry bush.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Waxwings & Fieldfare at the Library again!

At 10am today, I arrived at Great Yarmouth Library and I could immediately see 26 Waxwings, perched on the large tree by the car park, 5 or 6 of their number flew down to the berry bush to feed on the berries at any one time. This is the fifth time I have found Waxwings this winter! Once before at Great Yarmouth Library, by the Rackham's corner roundabout along the A12, by the Kessingland bypass roundabout, and a singleton flying over the house. It was wonderful to hear their trilling calls as I walked through the first floor of the Library, as I was informing a group about the Library's local history resources. By 12 o'clock, lunchtime, their numbers had swelled to 31 Waxwings, with the larger group perched on the large trees just east by the Row 111 houses, with just a few in the tree bordering the Library the car park. Up to 8 Waxwings flew in at anytime feeding on the berry bush. Often in full view, just a couple of feet away from the staff room window. The Waxwings flew around the estate, sometimes perching on distant TV aerials. Also there, partially obscured on a thick horizontal branch was a fine Fieldfare, which fed on berries too and when I left at 12.40pm, it was feeding out in full view (but I had no camera, alas!). The birds then became a little elusive initially in the afternoon but Peter C confirmed that c30 Waxwings were feeding on the berry bush at 4.30pm.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Mist & Fog equals few birds!

After the fog had slightly dispersed early afternoon today, I arrived at Lound and I didn't see any of Dickens' Bitterns today (I could prevaricate by stating I was thinking of Shakespeare's "A Winter's tale" but that would be untrue, thanks Paul for the correction, what was I thinking!!?), seeing Jane & Paul they had seen one showing just to the west of the causeway, but it had disappeared into the reeds by the time I arrived. A very poor show at Benacre (Bramblings honourably excepted) revealed 10 Chaffinches, and both male and female Reed Bunting by the maize (?) strip just past the bends and a Marsh Tit by the farm track. Best of all were 2 superb Bramblings perched in the bushes amongst 15 Chaffinches and a pair of Reed Buntings, bordering the southern edge of the Churchyard along the western edge, one a female and a smart winter male who perched in the middle of the bush for several minutes. He had a dark tipped yellow bill, grey and black notched head and nape, a rich orange on the breast and a white rump that showed well in flight when it eventually flew to the adjacent field to the west. Down at Benacre Broad, it was misty, but you could just about see to the back of the Broad, little seen, save for 2 male and 9 female Goldeneye and certainly none of the hoped for Beans seen. Walking back, it was somewhat disconcerting to see a dead Piglet slung on the sludge heap, whilst 4 Linnets were seen feeding on the clifftop path ahead. A walk down to Covehithe Broad, revealed in places at least 2 metres of the edge of the cliff and path had fallen into the sea since last autumn when I had been watching last November's Richard's Pipit, some parts where it had been feeding have now gone into the sea). Looking seawards there was nothing going past or even sat on the sea but the northern edge of the Broad, revealed a hunting female Marsh Harrier, 20 Tufted Duck and 2 Pochard. A check of some 60 Greylags on the fields on the way back did not reveal any of the hoped for Beans either. I didn't have the heart to call in at Sotterley later for my 29th consecutive dip there of Hawfinch, that will have to wait for another day!

Saturday, 16 February 2013

A Tale of 2 Bitterns

To paraphrase Dickens, it was a tale of 2 Bitterns today. Early morning, I walked up the hill to overlook the large lake by the water treatment works at Lound, I looked in at one look out point and couldn't see anything, so carried on and saw Ricky F overlooking the lake at the back. I was glad Ricky was watching the Bittern and he kindly pointed it out to me. It was initially difficult to see as it crouched in the reeds along the far bank opposite. It was really good to see this excellent Bittern, my first for Lizard land. The nearest one I'd seen previously was one along a dyke bordering the north end of Bure Park at Great Yarmouth and I had heard one booming years ago in the 1980's at Fisher Row/ Carlton Marshes. It was great to spend some time seeing this Bittern hunting, as it spent time motionless or stealthily moving forward, often with its neck outstretched very low over the water and I could even see its beady eye looking for any movement in the water, on a couple of occasions it caught small fish. As we watched the Bittern, I observed a dark brown stripe on the head and neck. It suddenly burst into activity running back past and up the bank into some bushes before eventually walking down to the reeds before it flew a little way right. Meanwhile, a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew to a close tree. Walking back, we saw a rattling Mistle Thrush fly up to a distant tree and a singing Song Thrush atop another tree bordering an arable field. In the afternoon, looking from the causeway, seeing maurice B. after half an hour revealed no Bitterns (one had been perched atop reeds minutes earlier!) although there were 2 Barnacle Geese amongst the Greylags and an incredible 62 Common Gulls (including 5 immatures) amongst a flock of BH Gulls. Eventually by the distant reeds, I saw a reed swing back suddenly, and we saw a second Bittern of the day fly over the scrub towards us and right over the causeway and indeed right our heads (an aewsome sight!) as it flew west.

Baying Bewicks part 2

On friday 15th February, there were far fewer wild Swans out at Catfield/ Ludham and I counted around 138 Bewick's Swans not seeing any Whoopers this time. maybe the mild weather had enticed the Bewick's to start migrating back to Russia? Although I only had 20 minutes (lunchbreak birding) and spent most of my time trying to photograph a close group of Bewick's. Although the road (Catfield village to Ludham village road) in which I was parked was a straight road with traffic wheezing by, the only safe place to park was the pull in on the far side of the road, meaning the camera was a little further away from the Swans.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Richard III: The body in the car park

Just had to give my thoughts on the absolutely stunning discovery of the body of Richard III, found underneath a Social Services car park in Leicester, England & the associated programme recently aired on Channel 4. The documentary was very interesting but somewhat lightweight in feel, (perhaps the programme makers really didn't believe they would find the body of the last Plantaganet King), with an unknown presenter who although likeable enough & did a reasonable job, really lacked the gravitas of a historical "heavyweight" like David Starkey, or even Tony Robinson or my preferred choice would have been Dan Snow, who would have clearly spelled out the history of the piece in a balanced way. Philippa Langley and the Richard III Society are to be warmly congratulated for being the driving force and the sponsors of the project, as also the archaeological team from Leicester University. We could have done with a bit more of the archaeology in the programme. The "Independent" in their review of the programme rather cruelly accused Ms Langley of being too emotional and acting more like the dead king's bereaved widow than a dispassionate historian, when forgetting she, and the Society, want to restore the King's reputation as a good King. The Richard III Society believe Richard's name was blackened by Henry VII, & Sir Thomas More in his biography of Richard III & the Tudors in order to legitimise their claim to the throne. The Tudor's depiction of Richard III as a hunchback, with a curved spine and withered arm is also famously mentioned in Shakespeare's play "Richard III" that also blackens the last Plantaganet king's name. However the body found in the car park was on the site of a mediaeval monastery, where historical sources suggest he was buried. The body crucially also shows a curved spine (which the Richard III society or Ricardians had previously disputed) or "scoliasos" to give the correct medical term. Anatomists say although he had a curved spine, this wouldn't have been too pronounced and he would have been able to don a suit of armour. But the skeletal remains disprove the statement that he had a withered arm. Examination of the skull revealed some very severe trauma to the skull and these wounds would have been fatal. These would have been inflicted when King Richard fell off his horse in battle and when dismounted he famously cried "a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!" according to Shakespeare writing over a century later. Also I believe, historical sources DO lean towards the assumption that Richard III ordered the deaths of the 2 princes in the tower (although I respect the opinion of Ricardians who hotly dispute this, claiming it was part of the Tudor propaganda campaign blackening his name), the legitimate heirs to the throne who had claim before Richard to the throne. We need to examine the motives of the King according to the ethics and brutality of the time and not through the "lens" of modern day ethics, his brother the reigning King Edward for example had their middle brother, the Duke of Clarence executed after a plot to take the throne and I believe Richard acted under the same motivation to get rid of the young Princes so he could seize power for himself. The programme DNA tested a relative of Richard III, Michael Ibsen, a Canadian cabinet maker now working in London, and these tests proved there was a positive and conclusive DNA match. Finally, the documentary showed Britain's leading facial reconstruction artist recreating what the face really looked like, given the contours of the skull. To my mind, the newly restored face heavily resembled the famous painting hanging in the National Portrait gallery. Anyway, a stunning discovery, a very interesting programme & I look forward to visiting Leicester very soon to see the exhibition, the car park and Richard III links & compiling a brand new talk on "Richard III: Myth, History & Re-discovery in the Car Park" to be given to any clubs or societies who wish to book me for a fascinating illustrated talk!

Baying Bewicks & Whooping Whoopers

At lunchtime today, I spent half an hour (I had a work talk at nearby Scratby) 1-1.30pm watching 3 separate groups of wild swans there was quite a gathering, they were just off the A149 at Catfield/ Ludham with one group of 115 Bewick's 4 Whooper Swans around 500 yards west of the west side road in a ploghed field next to a watery lake, there was a separate group of 17 Bewick's Swans much further away, and around 200 Bewicks Swans, 4 Whooper Swans in a field nearer Ludham, it was lovely to hear these Swans calling with the Whoopers whooping and the Bewicks baying. I was able to stop quite close to the Whoopers but stopping near the Bewick's was impossible to do safely on such a busy side road to Ludham, which was a pity as i still haven't got a decent shot of Bewick's yet.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Waxwings at the Library

As I was packing my bags in the car at 4.20pm this afternoon, having been at Great Yarmouth Library most the day, I heard a familiar thin high pitched trilling call and looking up, I saw some excellent Waxwings flying in from the west into the large Mountain Ash tree, just east of the Library car park. Incidently, this was the same tree where both Peter C and I found a Yellow- browed Warbler, one October several years ago! I eventually counted 7 Waxwings. I went back and retrieved my colleague Peter C and we both enjoyed views of this birds as they flew down to the large berry bush just east of the Library staff room and we had great late afternoon views of these birds. As we watched the Waxwings incredibly, 2 single Med Gulls flew over, my first ever at Great Yarmouth Library! First, an adult Mediterranean Gull flew west over the car park and then a 2nd winter Mediterranean Gull flew over flying west. The Waxwings were also enjoyed by 3 other members of staff also. I watched the birds for a few minutes and first 4 birds flew down gorging themselves on the plentiful berries before flying up to the top of the tree again. Finally, 1 Waxwing flew down feeding before again flying up again. Sadly, I had to leave these birds (had to go back to Gorleston Library) as they perched atop the tree. It will be worth keeping an eye on this area as there are plenty of berries on this bush and this small group of Waxwings may well hang around for a while? At this rate, Great Yarmouth Library will be on Norfolk's top birding/ wildlife hotspots with Vagrant Darter dragonfly, Ybw, Waxwings, Blackcap all seen in the last year or so!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Birds from the car

On Monday 11th February, driving west along the A47 Acle straight late morning today, I noticed around 100 Pink- footed Geese in the field north of the road. Driving back just past Hales at 5.15pm, a Barn Owl perched on a post on the north side of the road.

Grey Partridges on a bitterly cold Sunday

On Sunday, 10th February, I looked over at Hamilton Dock and it was good to see the Great Northern Diver at Hamilton Dock swimming right out in the middle for around half an hour before it disappeared! At a bitterly cold Ness Point and a very high tide, 7 Purple Sandpipers, flew past the finger and 7 huddled together, against the bitter cold south wind. At lunchtime, I joined the Lizards (Andrew E, Rob's Wil & Win, James W, James B, Paul & Jane F, Richard W et al) putting in some 500 bushes (Gorse, hawthorne, elderberry etc) and scrub paid for by Suffolk Wildlife Trust as the western hedge around the Ting Dene caravan park on the North Denes. Mid afternoon, I saw the Wren in the near border in the back garden running parallel with the kitchen, it flew left over to the lavender bush. A text from Roy H and then Jane F had me driving just a few yards west of Mutford along the Hulver road, by the SEO field at Mutford, I could see a Barn Owl hunting, initially no GP's seen and negative reports from Maurice B who was also there. But while I was yet again fruitlessly scanning the Ellough area, a call from Roy H (one good turn deserves another see yesterday's post), I drove back to the Hulver road area just yards from the end of the village by the for sale signs, in the large field north of the road, we spotted 2 excellent Grey Partridges in the eastern end of the field on the far side just yards from the blue bag. They huddled low amongst the cut stubble. One was male and female, the male had chestnut brown markings on the face. They slowly walked east along the back of the field. Nice to see a species I hadn't seen for over a decade, I'd never seen them in either the Ellough, Beccles or indeed Mutford areas before, the last ones I'd seen were the Corton ones over a decade ago.

Breydon Green- winged Teal

Early morning on Friday 8th February, both Song Thrush and Wren seen in the garden. On Saturday 9th February, Pete A had tweeted finding a GW Teal on Breydon, I eventually made my way to Great Yarmouth. Walking up to the hide, Keith D & Phil H were still in there and although the bird had been lost from view. Phil thought he could still see the bird. He put me onto the bird with some excellent directions, it was on the estuary just beyond the lumps. When it moved, it was amongst 3,000 Teal it was indeed the excellent Green- winged Teal, it showed the classic white vertical stripe. It stood for most of the time, back on, but when it moved slightly and the white vertical stripe could just about be seen. Walking back, I met Roy & Ruth H and went back to direct them onto the bird, it was back on again and virtually impossible to pick up, however it shifted to a side on view and the white vertical stripe was once again obvious.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Black- bellied Dipper + 2 Otters = Top Thetford trip

Today, Thursday 7th January, I couldn't resist the lure of a very photogenic BB Dipper any longer and following a day off TOIL following working extra hours in January, I gave in. It's been a very hectic this year with work and talks at the moment. It was difficult driving west to Thetford this morning but I fared much better than some, the early snow and frost no doubt causing 2 accidents. One on the Barnby bends had me queuing up with other traffic and after a few minutes stationary, I turned round and had to drive the tiny and very water-logged side roads around Mutford & Ellough to bypass the blocked road, just past Mutford, one reward were seeing 3 Bullfinches (a male and 2 females) fly across the road (right to left). Accident number two, whilst driving along between Bungay & Harleston, I noticed a Mini had wrapped itself around a road sign and a ditch to the left of the road. A stop on a side road left at a mile east of Thetford, I saw a Mistle Thrush fly across a side road to a wood. Finding the 3 Nuns bridge was very easy, driving over one bridge and turning left into a car park by a brook, I walked along past another bridge and turning left and following a brook and some trees, I met a birder who said the bird had just flown off. Fearing the worst i walked further along and was very relieved to see the excellent Black- bellied Dipper posing beautifully perched on a stone on a relatively well lit area of the stream where it intersected 3 separate tributaries. It posed here for a while barely 15 feet away. It swam in the water hunting and catching tiny fish and invertebrates. It then flew to the back perched for a while before hunting over tot he left and then the right. before advancing photographers pushed it over to where I was, where it perched briefly on a twig just 6 feet away. It then flew to an upturned branch in the stream using this as a vantage point for its hunting. It would look for its prey and then suddenly jump in swimming and chasing its prey. It then flew left before it flew past and back a little way. I walked back and it was perched by a log, showing beautifully barely 10 feet away. Its reflection showed well in the water and it spent a good 20 minutes resting, being barely motionless, before it suddenly woke up, characteristically dipping. The Black- bellied Dipper then jumped up to the log and then leapt back fishing first left of the log and then right of the log. It then flew back to its original spot. A birder at the back walked towards us saying he'd just seen 2 Otters, I then crossed the ford, carefully, my Wellingtons sank 6 inches into the mud, but I crossed OK and and walked towards across another dyke running across. With a large house and green area beyond, we could see 2 incredible Otters, bounding and swimming up and down in the water, their bodies arching as they twisted and turned in the water, as if they were playing, one could follow the progress of the Otters swimming right with the tiny stream/ line of air bubbles breaking the surface. Amazingly these otters seemed oblivious of our presence swimming only 3o feet away. They then bounded onto terra firma on the bank beyond which was fenced, before they both entered the water. As they swam you could see their heads break the surface and one bared its teeth once posing beautifully for the camera. You could also see the characteristic matted strands of wet fur and whiskers too. Absolutely amazing views, my best ever of this species and still only the fourth and fifth I've ever seen. They swam quickly right and disappeared behind a reed fringed island. meanwhile a calling Siskin flew past overhead, another Siskin seen in flight and Nuthatch heard in the distance too. A Muntjac deer was seen on the lawn at the back. By another bridge, a Treecreeper flew by and up into a tree. Near Ellough driving back, around 40 Fieldfare flew up from a hedge on the south side of the road. Final goodie of the day was a Song Thrush in the garden seen at the back and then perched in the left tree for some time. Pictures to follow at the weekend.

Gunton Waxwings

On Tuesday 5th February, from 8 to 8.15am I was at the junction of Clover Way and Squire's Walk, the 40 Waxwings were seen perched at the top of a tree on the eastern corner. They all took flight at one stage flew around and settled back on top of the tree. In a tree just east of their along Clover Way, a Fieldfare was seen perched in a tree.