Sunday, 12 March 2017

Watching Turnstones, turn stones

Turnstone, Holme Beach
I spent a pleasant hour this morning on Holme Beach with the family. It was a grey morning with a hint of rain in the air, despite this and the relative remoteness of the location there were still a fair number of folk out and about with all the usual issues of disturbance to the wildlife you are trying to watch or photograph by their dogs.

Whilst the kids had a play in the sand I focused my attention and rather slow and very old 100 - 300 zoom on a Turnstone that was feeding on the strand line. By approaching the bird carefully and avoiding any sudden movements I was able to get a few nice shots and also to observe it's feeding technique.
Turnstone doing exactly what its name suggests it should do
At first it was working its way through some seaweed and I thought of its old Norfolk name of Tanglepicker, then it moved up the beach onto some dryer sand and started feeding there. It did this by turning over stones and probing deep into the sand with its beak, whenever it removed its face from the sand and turned to face me the birds forehead was covered in a sandy mask.

Turnstone searching for food
What impressed me though was the strength of its neck muscles, it would rapidly move between pebbles, quickly inserting its beak at their base and with a twist and flick of its neck turn the stone over, often flicking stones that looked like they weighed more than the bird into the air, quite impressive.
Turnstone, Holme Beach

I like Turnstones, they are adaptable and approachable and if a bird can have character I think they have it in spades, they are in trouble too with a declining population. You can read more about Turnstones in this excellent blog Why do Turnstones eat chips

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Birding, Wellbeing and a lunchtime Twitch

Been a while since I've posted owt on here, a combination of family responsibilities and the competing attraction of Instagram and Twitter for quick and concise communication. I'll not try and summarise what I have been up to since my last post in the Autumn.

With some friends at work I have set up a Patchwork Challenge site in Norwich which includes the Rosary Cemetery, Thorpe marshes and Whitlingham Country Park, a nice patch for short lunchtime walks. Already we have had a half hour bird race around the cemetery where the birders were joined by non birders. Than last week we had a mini twitch to Thorpe marshes for a Black necked grebe. Four of us made the five minute drive and it was great to immediately get onto this little bundle of feathers immediately, Patch Gold. Almost as pleasing though were a couple of common Snipe, context is everything and these were the first Waders' for our 2017 patch list.

St Andrews Broad, NWT Thorpe Marshes
Our walk coincided with a national initiative to take time out to talk to colleagues a watch out for their and your own mental health and wellbeing. It's interesting that I have been birding so long that I rarely think about why I do it. But of course I Bird because I enjoy it, it's something I reach for when I am stressed and when I want to clear my mind. Listening to my work mates as we finished our circuit of the Marshes it was clear that this Twitch aka Wellbeing walk had done more to enhance their mood that day than just the mechanical act of adding a bird to the year list.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Participating in the Yellow Browed Warbler invasion

For the past few weeks the UK has been inundated [well there have been rather a lot] with Yellow Browed Warbler's and I had seen precisely none this year. So it was wonderful this morning to have a chance to go birding with my mate Jim along the north Norfolk coast.

Yellow Browed Warbler, Brancaster
We headed to Brancaster Staithe, our plan was simply to walk the boardwalk back west towards Brancaster and bird the hedgerows and trees that border it. Initially this seemed like a bad call, although there were birds about the wind was keeping them down and those that there were always seemed to have the sun behind them. But then we reached Branodunum, not the housing estate but the field owned by the National Trust and surrounded by a nice sheltering hedgerow, soon we heard our first Yellow Browed Warbler here and although we couldn't pin this bird down we started to feel lucky.
Yellow Browed Warbler, Brancaster
Walking into the north west corner of the field I picked up a a Phylosc in the top of a tree and Jim and I called it simultaneously as a Yellow Browed, soon we had two of these flitting around and calling giving good if always brief views.

Leaving Branodunum we headed back to the car at Brancaster Staithe with the pinging of Bearded Tits accompanying us. A couple of Red Kites drifted overhead and a Peregrine shot through with the sun behind it as it hunted the marsh. We also saw Common Buzzard and Marsh Harrier here.

Not seeing the Red Breasted Flycatcher at Titchwell
Titchwell was busy, very busy. We spent a while not seeing the Red Breasted Flycatcher but getting brief views of a Pied Flycatcher. On the Fen Trail we heard but didn't see a couple of YBW's and we saw a Common Redstart in a hedge near Patsy's Pool. Walking down the West Bank path expecting a tough time finding the Pectoral Sandpiper we were pleased to find it staked out right by the side of the path, it spent a lot of time in cover only ever giving brief views, often of its back.

Pied Flycatcher, Titchwell
Heading home we picked up a Sparrowhawk being mobbed by Jackdaws,  which meant five species of BOP in a morning and no Kestrel.

Pectoral Sandpiper, Titchwell

All in all a great four hours birding, the best bit being the time Jim and I had a prime bit of east coast habitat to ourselves along with a couple of Yellow Browed's. I love the sense of being able to say not only did I clap eyes on these birds but that I also shared the communal experience of this years invasion of this tiny little warblers. Just as last year it was great to share in that amazing period at Holkham when the bushes were full of rares and birders from across the UK came together to join in the fun. Not that today was all plain sailing whilst giving the kids their tea I had a quick look at BirdGuides Norfolk page on my mobile phone only to discover that a Black Browed Albatross had flown past Old Hunstanton, maybe half a mile as the Albatross flies from my kitchen, ho bloody hum.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Turnstone Action

I'm lucky I live about five minutes walk from Hunstanton beach which means that if ever I have an hour spare I can take my binoculars and camera for a walk and enjoy some great wildlife. I have developed a couple of mild photographic obsessions based around the beach. The first is the nesting Fulmars who provide lots of opportunities to practice my flight photography and I am slowly getting some better quality images of these great birds.
Turnstone, Hunstanton Beach
The second are the Turnstones that live up to their name flicking over the pebbles on the beach and squabbling over scraps of food.

Today I saw from the weather forecast that there was a good chance that the sun would break through the cloud at about 5pm and I managed my day around getting away for a hour or so late afternoon.

When I got to the beach I noticed that the area under the seawall was free of walkers and also had lots of Herring Gulls and Turnstones feeding there. I quickly found the colour ringed Turnstone I was hoping to record [more about them another time] and realised that I could use the Groyne as a makeshift hide allowing me to crouch within six feet of the feeding Turnstones.

Turnstone and Juvenile Herring Gull, Hunstanton Beach
As I watched the birds feed using their beaks and necks to flick over pebbles, grabbing open mussels and teasing out the contents, I realised that there seemed to be a conflict avoidance behaviour going on. Birds would shrilly call at other birds that came to close, normally enough for one bird to then back off, but occasionally there would be a flurry of wings as two birds jousted for food.

Turnstones arguing over food, Hunstanton Beach
It did seem a little odd that there should be any fighting as there seemed to be no shortage of open mussel shells for both the Turnstones and the Herring Gulls present to feed upon.

Turnstones arguing over food, Hunstanton Beach
I had a great hour and a bit with these birds, the light was more miss than hit with just a few moments of golden light. But now I have discovered by Groyne Hide I will be back again trying to get better shots.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Weekend Birds

Late Swallow brood
Saturday was wet here in north west Norfolk. I needed to visit the garage in Brancaster and took advantage of the opportunity afterwards to sit in my car in the harbour for an hour watching the tide slowly rise and the rain drops pit the surface of the water. Almost the first birds that I saw and heard on arrival were a couple of Greenshank's manically feeding around the edges of the harbour, every few minutes taking flight and landing in a new feeding location where they resumed their buy scything of the shallow water before taking flight again.

A Little Egret fed reasonably close inshore catching small fish that seemed from my perspective to be barely worth the effort that it had to put into catching them. As the rain eased a number of Swallows flew west and Spoonbill circled over the saltmarsh to the east.

Little Egret
Sunday and the sun was back out and we went to our beach hut in the sand dunes to the east of Brancaster beach. Here a late brood of swallows sat spilling out of their nest in the eaves of neighbours beach hut whose decking sported a large pile of swallow crap. Next door a Common Lizard sunned itself. In the scrub a Willow Warbler shared a bush with the local House Sparrows and Wheatear sat up in a gable end.

Willow Warbler
The  sea was still relatively warm and the visibility was the best I've ever known it. Off shore there were still Sandwich Terns albeit in reduced numbers and solitary Great Crested Grebe, Red Breasted Merganser and Guillemot.

Its weekends like this that remind me of why I choose to live where I do, the opportunity it affords me to raise my children by the sea, spend quality time with them in great locations and to live in a bird rich and dynamic part of the world.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Too wet even for ducks

We've had a lot of rain, some lightening and a little thunder here in west Norfolk this afternoon. I spent a pleasant 45 minutes in Island Hide at Titchwell late afternoon and watched the first wave of bad weather pass through from the shelter of the hide ruefully looking at my old metal tripod and the lightening outside. Later I was in the Jolly Sailors in Brancaster Staithe when a really heavy storm came on, black sky's, lightening and torrential rain with an aftermath of flooded roads requiring the fire service to come and pump out a number of properties.

Juvenile Shelduck in rain storm.
No1 and No2 sons [age 4 and 7] thought all of this was terribly exciting and enjoyed watching the storm out of the pub windows and found the drive home along a very wet A149 exhilarating.

During my brief visit to Titchwell I saw a single Spoonbill circle the Fresh Marsh looking almost grey in the storm light, a couple of Marsh Harriers and some distant Curlew Sandpipers. After the storm 20 - 30 Common and Sandwich Terns hawked over the Fresh Marsh. An Avocet swept past in the shallows feeding and looked splendid with its reflection in the black water.

Avocet and reflection
Whilst it rained heavily it was interesting  to watch the ducks sky pointing, aligning their bodies into the rain presumably to minimise the impact of the rain on their feathers. Quite a spectacular afternoon.

Teal Sky Pointing in rain

Friday, 26 August 2016

Gannet action at Bempton

A place where the sound of birds rises above and dominates the east coast wind, where the fishy smell generated by tens of thousands of defecating birds pervades the air, and where a line of white cliffs cuts out into the blue of the North Sea. The RSPB's nature reserve at Bempton Cliffs is all of these things and the most easily accessible large seabird colony in England. Each year I try and make a visit to take in the spectacle of the colony in full flow and this year I was lucky enough to spend a few hours there at the end of July.

Part of RSPB Bempton Cliffs
Tree Sparrows bounced around the bushes surrounding the new Visitor Centre where I was able to grab a welcome coffee and slice of cake. I see Tree Sparrows every year but I am not aware of anywhere in Norfolk where I live where they are so easily seen around bird feeders in and in such good numbers. I love their rich chestnut caps and the black beauty spot on their cheeks.

Tree Sparrow
Caffeinated we set off down the well made path to the cliffs, normally I visit earlier in the Spring and there was a noticeable difference in the birds on view compared to my normal mid April visits. I had to work hard to see Guillemots and Razorbills, apparently the majority of these two species of Auks had finished breeding and left the cliffs the week before, Shags too were thin on the ground. But Puffins were everywhere, on the sea, flying in front of the cliffs and perched below the viewpoints. Apparently late July is just about the best time to see Puffins at Bempton.

Bempton Puffins

But the undoubted stars of the show were the Gannets, many with well grown fluffy chicks on the rocky cliff ledges below the viewpoints, these majestic Persil white seabirds would drift along the cliff tops a few metres away from you. My travelling companion was quite overwhelmed and wanted to add the use of the sens of touch ti that of hearing, smell and sight by reaching out to hold one. Perhaps the most entertaining Gannet action was on a grassy slope near the top of the cliffs where a constant succession of birds came in and landed to grab beak fulls of grass to start the process of making next years nests.

Bempton Gannet and nesting material
All along the cliff top trail were well presented and informative hand drawn chalk boards with key facts about the seabirds. At the southernmost viewpoint I spotted one of the resident peregrines high overhead a great bird to end our walk with.
Peregrine at Bempton

Back at the Visitor Centre I graduated from my morning coffee to a afternoon Ice Cream and then the long drive home.