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Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Post Christmas birding in South Wales

On Sunday 29th December, an early morning walk down to Cymisfael stream was atmospheric and cold with extensive hoar frost shaping the landscape like white icing on a cake. By the woods, just down from Mum's house, a Marsh Tit called "pitchou" and was seen briefly high up in the trees. Not many birds seen with just a female Grey Wagtail along the stream by the cottage right of the walk down hill. Walking back up the hill to Mum's house, a fine male Bullfinch flew towards me into the hedge bordering the road then eventually up into the tree canopy of the woods. Whilst walking along the drive, a Nuthatch was seen creeping down along the branch. Monday 30th visit was much better, the weather was milder but much wetter, with extensive rain overnight, water was running down the road side, running down from the roads. By the brook, male and then female Grey Wagtail were seen, the male perched briefly on a gate in the field by the brook end. Incredibly, opposite was a flooded field and in the north west corner swimming around was a fine female Goosander. My first sighting on my Welsh patch! Also 30 Redwing flew up from the field and into the hedge. sadly as soon as she saw me she took off flew towards me and over the road and eventually out of sight. Walking along the road to the two bridges. The road was completely flooded. Later investigating with Wellington boots the water was 14 inches deep and even though I waved at 3 cars not to attempt the crossing (risk of flooding the engine) 2 drove through with seemingly no ill effects. As I walked back to the brook, I heard the distinctive call of the Willow Tit and sure enough 2 birds moved through moving west along the hedge. One was definitely a Willow Tit, bull- necked with white cheeks, but I didn't see the other bird well enough. The Redwings were again in the field. A Raven was heard its deep croaking call somewhere in the distance but unfortunately not seen. Whilst walking back up the hill to Mum's house about half way along 2 fine male Bullfinches, fine birds with peach red breasts were seen and heard moving through the fence bushes bordering the road, before they too flew over the road and up into the tree canopy. On Tuesday 31st in the gloom at Reading East a fine Red Kite flew over the M4. Single Buzzards seen along the A12 at Kelveden & Capel St Mary.

Brunnich's Guillemot at Portland Harbour

On what must have been my best ever experience of harbour birding, I left Lowestoft on Saturday 28th December at 5.30pm and arrived at Portland harbour Quay at 10.20am. I had arranged to see Dick W & Ali R there. They had graciously offered me a lift but I declined as this period was family time in Wales but no harm in a 60 mile detour off the M4 on my journey over! As I walked up along the Quay side thronged by a group of what must have been around 120 birders, in the first harbour, I could see Mergansers and a smaller throng of birders scoping the Tystie, I walked past as top priority was the Brunnich's, I walked to the second harbour with wooden jetty's for the yachts I spied a larger knot of birders all scoping something quite close on the water, immediately in front of me sitting in he water just 30 feet away was the excellent Brunnich's Guillemot! This, unfortunately was the closest it got all morning. It was immediately apparent that this bird would constantly dive and be under water for some time (around 70% of the time only spending 30% of its time above the water line) It had a curious diving action seemingly to flop over to 1 side with its wing half out stretched to dive not really aerodynamic. I took a good look at it when it was above water. The upper parts were black and not chocolate brown in ordinary Guillemot. It's bill was blunter and less dagger like that on ordinary Guillemot. The bill showed the distinctive white line running parallel just above with the cutting edge of the upper mandibles and extending onto the face. It appeared a much darker bird with the black on the head extending onto the upper breast and sides punctuated by a paler whitish flush on the chin. The dark black eye had a line extending down from it and away. The bird was regularly diving and could be up to 30 yards away when it resurfaced. It swam out into the harbour and almost over to the first one before it made its way back to the wooden jetty running alongside and parallel with harbour wall at the Osprey Quay, it then swam up a channel very close to the Quay side for those fortunate to witness it, after a sudden downpour of rain where we all took cover under the leisure centre eaves. The bird then went missing for some 45 minutes. In the meantime we admired the incredible tally of at least 15 Red- breasted Mergansers, with 7 females and 6 males seen in this one harbour alone. A fine Great Northern Diver was also seen at the back of the harbour. A Razorbill that surfaced just in front of us raising our hopes briefly for a millisecond. Walking back along the harbour wall, to the first harbour ,the fine winter- plumaged Black Guillemot or Tystie as I prefer to call it. The Tystie was only my third sighting in this plumage. It swam near an orange buoy. Further out incredibly were 2 incredibly handsome Black- throated Divers which swam together showing silky grey necks and distinctive white flashes on their rear flanks. A female Eider was also later seen close in by the bout and way out an ordinary Guillemot was also sighted plus a pair of Red- breasted Mergansers. Suddenly a movement towards another section of the harbour further along had us peering through the fence and seeing the excellent Brunnich's Guillemot swimming close in following the harbour wall then diving its unique floppy dive(!) then swimming out into the harbour. I decided to view from the far end and when I reached there 10 minutes later the bird was swimming out of this part of the harbour under the bridge and back towards the Osprey Quay area. Walking back it was again close into the harbour the light suddenly approved and I finally bagged some half decent shots albeit a mid distance. It swam out to the harbour almost toying with going into the first harbour before swimming back again heading for the wooden jetty area where it dived and wasn't seen again by me during the rest of my visit. In the meantime the group of 13 Red- breasted Mergansers had grouped together in single sex flock the male throwing their heads back in display, an incredible sight. The Great Northern Diver was still patrolling at the back of the dock too. Some really superb winter harbour birding!

Friday, 27 December 2013

Carnage at Winterton: Aftermath of the Sea Surge

A Boxing Day early afternoon walk at Winterton we had to really search for a free place to park, everyone was on the beach there must have been over a hundred people walking along. It was gratifying to sea the Cafe and the old Beachmen's huts had survived the recent sea surge although the anti tank traps hd been tossed about. Just a few metres out to sea almost by the shore line several Grey Seals were seen and a very irresponsible owner had let their dog swim out and one stage it looked as if the 2 Seals were going to attack it in a pincer movement but the dog quickly swam back to shore. walking further along north coming up to Horsey beach we found 3 Seal Pup carcasses victims of the recent sea surge. A white tiny baby seal pup was huddling amongst one of the groynes on the beck and taking the inland route we found an older pup in the Dunes. By another Seal carcass, 5 Turnstone and a Sanderling were gathering the Turnstone feeding of the raw meat from the carcass. Seeing the one of the Seal wardens who were doing an excellent job of keeping th people and their dogs away from the Seal Pup she said those mothers who'd been able to get their pups to the dunes had saved them around 75 but those who hadn't the Pups had been washed out to sea presumed dead 100+ but only a few carcasses had been washed up so far, we counted 4 in our walk. A massive Grey Seal hauled himself out of the water and lying on the sand, the great grandaddy of them all. Going back, we were delighted to have for company around 84 delightful Snow Buntings which flew around us for some 10 minutes, flying over our heads and calling their very festive tinkling calls.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Festive Treats

An early start on Christmas morning had me walking down to Covehithe Broad at first light and I was surprised to see 1 dog walker and 3 walkers/ sea dwellers already there, it was like Piccadilly Circus! An initial look on Covehithe Broad revealed nothing but another more extensive look in the far south western corner revealed 5 female Goldeneye and the excellent female Long- tailed Duck with them. They were constantly diving. Walking back to Benacre Broad, the recent sea surge had drained much of the water out, except a smaller pool nearer the beach, asleep on the southern edge were several ducks including 2 Pintail (male and female) asleep. On the pool both male and female Goldeneye were seen. A female Marsh Harrier quartered the reeds at the back. An incredible tally of c1900 Common Gulls seen in the field behind ie. just north of Covehithe church. Next stop was Pakefield beach just by the Jolly Sailors, the beach was full of walkers and I thought there there was no way I would see any Snow Buntings, when like a mirage, a flock of 64 Snow Buntings flew in and settled to any area which looks like it had been seeded especially for the birds. The walkers were constantly flushing them, they flew onto the pebbly beach before flying back to the seeded area. Next stop was the Oulton Marshes where just north of the railway line in he field, the fine Glossy Ibis was walking around feeding in a ditch. Resplendent in the sunshine with the especially the purple and some green iridescence showing well within the plumage. I was able to walk along the western edge and using the reeds as a blind was able to take some half decent shots with the bird walking towards me feeding by a pool area, until a walker walking along the top path stopped and shouted out "Anything special?" causing the Ibis to walk quickly back to the eastern fringes of the field. My cue to leave, I next visited Fritton Woods or should that be waste ground as a disproportionate amount of trees had ben chopped down, the enlarged clearing had led to around a further 8 trees being blown down by the high winds. On the marsh itself, a pale Common Buzzard sat on a nearby gate post showing a particularly pale cream belly and way in the north- west distance, a shape that looked suspiciously like the RLB proved to be a Rough- legged Buzzard when it moved showing pale head light on the mid back and when it flew the glorious black patch on the lower belly and black banded white tail seen clearly as it flew right a short way and onto another post. A Kestrel was also seen perched on a fence post plus 2 Chinese Water Deer. A real festive again treat!

Glossy Ibis at Oulton Marshes

On Saturday 21st December, we saw a Small Tortoiseshell flying around the garden first thing in the morning, I was unable to catch it to try and let it hibernate safely in the winter. On Sunday 22nd December, unable to twitch the Glossy Ibis as I was at Wroxham Barns at the time. I rose early in the morning and walking out to Oulton Marshes in the pouring rain but from the platform saw the excellent Glossy Ibis feeding distantly in the field. Walking along to the path by the tea garden, we looked across and north into the field and the Glossy Ibis flew in really close and settled but took one look at us and flew further back into the field. Finally we saw in the field north of the railway line, walking along and feeding along a dyke.

Southwold Lapland Bunting

On Tuesday 17th December, a quick visit to Minsmere early in the morning to replenish Christmas card supply, I called in at Southwold and at the harbour car park just east of there and the Lifeboat shed, the excellent Lapland Bunting was feeding, another photographer was already there but I managed several shots before it flew even closer to me and managed to get some nice shots albeit in very poor light. It was a well marked bird. It finally flew onto the middle of the car park which was my cue to leave as I had to be in work for 12 noon.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Grey Phalarope on flooded fields by the Bailey Bridge

On Tuesday 10th December, 2 groups of around 40 Pink- footed Geese flew north east over the Hospital car park at 8.20am. On Friday 13th December I had the morning off and in the gloom I drove to Southwold walked over the bailey Bridge and the excellent 1st winter Grey Phalarope was feeding close in to the north west corner. I crouched down and watched it for a little while, 3 minutes and was setting up my camera up when a passer by flushed it and it flew east. It was seen partially obscured by reeds in a dyke running parallel with the river. On Saturday 14th December, I drove back to Southwold harbour and walked along the river bank meeting some photographer and I instantly saw the Grey Phalarope out briefly in the open for 2 minutes before sadly defence work contractors flushed it as they drove right up to the bird it flew away, but for the rest of the time it spent time in the dyke obscured by reeds. On Sunday 15th December, an Environment Agency guard was blocking any access along the walk way it was again the north west corner by the Bailey Bridge but after just a minute it was flushed but he guard and flew into the obscured dyke. Later on it flew to the pool and showed reasonably well. It later flew west of the bridge and flew and swam in the river before flying high east past Southwold town and the lighthouse and appeared to drop but not seen again.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Long- tailed Duck on Benacre Broad

Thanks to Jane's tweet I headed straight off to park just before Covehithe Church and eventually found a space after someone had rather rudely nicked the space I intended reversing into! I eventually parked next to PJ's car. I walked down to the Broad and could see a lot of water had drained out, I could also see a winter- plumaged Black- tailed Godwit and Paul & Jane on the beach and on a small channel of water, I could see the excellent female Long- tailed Duck. She had a dark blackish back and cap blackish spot on the ear coverts, a blue grey bill and brownish eye with black pupil. Otherwise the plumage was a pale white colour. It was really good to spend some time with this bird, this species had been distinctly scarce during the last few years, the one that flew past and north at Ness Point last year was my first for several years. This individual is the first chance I have had to photograph this species. She spent a lot of her time swimming around a wiry junk piece sticking out of the water, Jane jokingly said Carl had tied the bird to it. It appeared he head because the LT Duck spent a lot of time here, always swimming round it in an anti- clockwise direction. Initially she didn't dive very much, but when she did using fieldcraft, I was able to get in position by the last ridge. She spent time swimming to the right of us in a channel to the sea and then back by the junk and then finally when OFB arrived even closer and just left of us. As we watched some 4 Sanderling wandered up the broad edge towards us giving great views and photographic opportunities before the lead one no doubt seeing us checked its progress, turned and ran back and out of sight. The Long- tailed Duck showed really well until the wind blew my Scilly cap off and the female Long- tailed Duck flew short way left (note to self on a windy day in winter where a woolly hat!), first mingling with Mallards before swimming back again. We left as Danny P and family arrived with their digiscoping equipment. In the afternoon, I had a quick look with Jenny at Corton Woods, I heard the Firecrest call and another Crest answer it nearby, but in the 5 minutes I was allowed there I couldn't see either bird.

Rough- legs on Chedgrave Marshes

Ignoring the urge to recommend some excellent Physio's at the Paget (see end of last message), I drove over on Saturday 7th December to Fritton woods (I received another text informing me Peter N had just found another!) and had a very pleasant walk to the mound where I met Chris M, Peter N & OFB. OFB kindly put his scope on both birds, 2 excellent Rough- legged Buzzards, one on a gatepost in front of a mill and the other left of that and between that and a disused mill with no sails. They both looked well marked birds and when one flew left it showed a clear dark brown belly patch white tail except the terminal black tail band. This bird then settled on gate. The other bird also flew left and perched in a field, after it did some hovering, wonderful to see. Both birds had very pale whitish heads. Whilst we were there, a skein of 200 Pink- footed Geese flew over calling and over and onto the marsh and Peter N spotted a Peregine perched on an isolated wooden post in a field. Both birds were on view until first Paul and then Jane F arrived and one of the birds had gone! We left Paul & Jane to search for both Rough- legs, which they eventually saw perched on 1 gate, it must have been a marvellous sight! As we walked away, I heard the "chip chip" calls and looking up I saw a wonderful flock of around 20 Crossbills flying over us and they appeared to settle in the tops of the tall pines 200 metres ahead of us along the track back, but as we walked past we couldn't relocate them..

Aftermath of the Storm at Lowestoft

Whilst out checking the storm damage from Gunton Cliffs, on Saturday 7th December, where I could see a significant amount of seawater deposited on the Dunes between the beach and Warren House wood, I received a tweet from Chris M saying he had a Rough- leg from the hump at Fritton woods (sounds painful!).

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Storm Surge hits Lowestoft

This evening up to 10.10pm, I witnessed the storm surge at first hand parking at the top of Gunton Cliff, I was amazed but not surprised to see people driving down Links Hill and parking in the car park and walking onto the sea wall with 30 foot waves crashing over the top of the sea wall, surely the height of folly. People's cars were constantly being driven down to the car park (up to 30 at one time were parked at the far eastern seaward end) with an average of 20 cars on the car park at any onetime. I have never seen the area so busy, coupled with the more sensible observer parking on Gunton Cliff (around 10) and the very top of Link's road (about 5). Walking down Links Hill, I found water had seawater had flooded Links Road up to the entrance to the car park and being 6 inches deep. The beach just north of here was completely flooded with water seeping to the eastern fringes of Warren House Wood, there were islands of higher parts of the beach & Marram grass still visible but the bulk of the beach appeared underwater.

Fox in Norwich

On Tuesday 3rd December, picking up Jenny from Norwich airport a bad accident forced on the road leading to Hellesdon Library and a fine looking Fox crossed the road from left to right at 9.40pm and trotted along the expanse of a new car/ used car forecourt.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Bullfinch over the garden

Early afternoon on Sunday 1st December, I spied a calling Bullfinch flying over the garden west calling. It later flew back onto Fallowfields.

Two- barred Crossbill at Lynford Arboretum on the 2nd attempt

Being offered an early 7.10am lift on Saturday 30th November, with John H and Ian M on board, we met Andrew H at the car park at Lynford and walked along to the Larch area. The weather contrary to the forecast was dull and overcast with frequent "mistly" rain. At the Larch viewing area, the big wooden gate behind us was open behind us revealing a muddy track extending to the large house at the end. 2 Crossbills flew over calling and perched in the top of the tree, I also spotted a Hawfinch joining them and I yelled out Hawfinch! and we were able to ID as a female. This was the start of a real purple patch here that would last all morning! A few minutes later, a group of around 10 Crossbills flew over and settled in the bush, one flew looked a little different and sure enough it proved to be the male Two- barred Crossbill. It flew into the top left of the tree, the white wing bars could be seen in flight. Typically, a bird more pinky red rather than the brick red of Crossbill plumage colour with 2 white obvious wing bars and longer narrower bill than Crossbill. It flew to the left and then flew to the top of a tree in full view further away where it was seen well at the top. A stunning bird and my first in 20 years! Eventually the group of 11 Crossbills flew off calling "chip chip" as they went. It was then the turn of a female Hawfinch to fly in to the tree, more subdued plumage than the male. A Treecreeper was seen crawling up a tee nearby. A Mistle Thrush then flew to the top of the tree. At the feeding area, a Nuthatch seen perched on a curled branch briefly before flying off left. A walk to the usual Hawfinch area for once failed to reveal any. But walking around the Arboretum, 9 Hawfinches flew out of the top a tree and 3 came back and fed from the very top of a tree, feeding on the buds. Looking over to the garden of a large house, 3 Hawfinches seen at the top of a tree and later 10 Redwings seen at the top too. Walking down to the lake, was an inspired decision as half way down at the left t junction of forest tracks, 3 Crossbills sp flew in and one showed white barring. The other 2 were Crossbills but the third, as I raised my bins and sure enough it the very top of that tree, the fine male Two- barred Crossbill could be seen again. The more pinky red plumage noted, the white wing bars (not as thick as on a full adult but substantial nonetheless and significantly, we noticed on this closer view the diagnostic thin white edgings to most of the tertials (these can become abraded in worn plumage) also the the slimmer longer bill noted again. After a minute or two it flew to the right hand tree where it also stayed for a minutes before it flew left with the 2 Common Crossbills. At the Lake we saw 3 Gadwall and a Common Teal. Finally, the icing on the cake, at the car park, we just initially missed a Fircest but half an hour later, I heard the distinctive more scratchy call and it flew back into the holly where I saw the Firecrest for a split second before it flew left (into a still group of beech leaves) showing the more olive green plumage with bronze shoulders and distinctive dark eye stripe and supercilia. It was not seen again, but this sighting had re-inforced my earlier view that this was my most successful visit ever to Lynford Arboretum, I look forward to a repeat visit soon!