Friday, 15 February 2013

Otter & Black Bellied Dipper - nice

I finally had a day free to drive the 50 miles to Thetford in search of the Black Bellied Dipper that has been wintering in the town.

I'd been told that all I need to do was follow the increasingly muddy trail from the car park until I found the birders who would already be in attendance.

Black Bellied Dipper, Thetford
This went to plan but what I hadn't expected was for the bird to be so confiding. I arrived behind a couple of photographers and the bird was perched on a branch in the water may be one and half metres in front of them and completely unperturbed as it was followed closely  up the shallow and narrow woodland stream.

It spent a lot of time sitting still, occasionally bobbing and flashing its white eyelid [I love it when Dippers do that]. Then it would enter the water and emerge with a small dead leaf which it would batter vigorously until it detached and ate the invertebrate it was after.

Whilst watching the Dipper a dog walker mentioned that there was an Otter on the main river 20 metres of so away and there was a muddy scramble as 7 or 8 camouflaged photographers dashed across the muddy field to be greeted by an otter initially feeding on the opposite side of the river. Then it dived and ordinarily you might expect it to disapper but this Otter just kept popping up closer and closer to us and was not bothered by the crowd of snappers following along the river bank. At its closest it was no more than a metre away from me.

Otter at Thetford
After the Otter I spent a bit more time with the Dipper. Before deciding to move on. Next stop was Santon Downham where I had hoped to luck into Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.  I didn't catch up with one of these but I did manage to see a nice ranger of woodland birds. Then a brief stop at Lyndford Arboretum where again the target bird [this time Hawfinch] failed to materialise.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Hunstanton Shags & Fulmars

Yesterday was an unexpectedly lovely winter blue sky day and even more unexpectedly I managed an hour and a half away from family duties to take a walk under the cliffs at the end of our road.

Not sure what I'd been expecting to see and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of Fulmars hanging around the cliffs either sitting on the flat calm waters of The Wash, flying over head or sat on the cliffs themselves. They were incredibly vocal and their calls, which I always feel sound a bit like a Geiger counter filled the air.

Fulmars, Hunstanton Cliffs
Apart from the Fulmars I'm inclined to say that it was the usual suspects with Turnstones, Redshanks and Bar Tailed Godwits feeding on the foreshore and Herring, Common and Black Headed Gulls present on reasonable numbers. Off shore were Great Crested Grebe and a couple of fly by Red Breasted Mergansers. Noticeable by their absence were any Brent Geese, but perhaps the beach was just a little too busy for them today.

I also managed to see four or five Shags, a two or three feeding just offshore and a couple more roosting on the cliffs. I had been told about the big Shag roost on the cliffs earlier in the winter and knew that this had peaked at over 100 birds but family commitments had prevented me going to look for them and to be honest I'd forgotten about the fact that they were still there. So it was a special treat to finally catch up with what has been a record breaking assemblage of these birds in Norfolk, albeit only a few of the many birds that had been present and to take a few pictures.

Shag, Hunstanton Cliffs

Saturday, 9 February 2013

What's so special about Wallcreeper's?

For a few years back in the early / mid 2000's I would lead Spring wildlife watching holidays to the Spanish Pyrenees. Following one of these trips I sketched out the following thoughts on why clients on these trips were so keen on seeing a Wallcreeper.

Winter Wallcreeper at Riglos
"Why is Wallcreeper the most sought after bird on every trip I have led to the Spanish Pyrenees, the bird that seems to sum up these wild mountains. The species that on the first day of the holiday we take the group in search of under the towering rock face of Gabardito, so that we have time to try again here later in the week should we fail?

Wallcreeper the bird that each year without fail members of the party will sidle up to me in the departure hall at Stansted, and ask in a whisper “Its not that I’m a twitcher or anything, but I’d really like to see a Wallcreeper. What chance have we got?”

I feel that part of this birds appeal must lie in its association with high, wild, inaccessible places like the Pyrenees. To have seen one means that you have joined a small select club of birdwatchers.

The walk to Gabardito starts in a small car park next to a Refugio, on the edge of an alpine meadow ringed by mountain peaks that are over flown by Griffon Vultures and the occasional Lammergeir. From here it is an uphill walk along a narrow side valley, gaining height as we pass through beech woods and pine clad rocky slopes. The surface of the path is a little uneven in places and has a steep drop on one side. Choughs fly overhead their metallic calls echoing around us. Different members of the group handle this ascent in their own way. For some it is an easy uphill walk, others describe it as ‘hard’ as much for the overwhelming and unfamiliar mountain scenery as the physical exertion involved.

Even when you are in the right place you have no certainty of success and again even when the bird has been spotted you, the individual being guided to this time and place, have to work hard to follow the directions across the almost featureless rock-face to spot a small, well camouflaged and distant bird. To have done this gives you ownership of the sighting a sense of satisfaction of having worked for your bird.

So after all the exertion of the climb, the giddying drops to the side of the path, the wait whilst you and the guide scan the vast rock face for this small well camouflaged bird, followed by the anxious moments whilst you try and find the birds in your binoculars. Now your onto the bird and can enjoy the moment, watching a small purple, black and grey bird with scimitar beak and butterfly wings, the shared excitement with your fellow travellers and of course the anticipation of being able to tell friends back home of your successful journey into the Wallcreepers mountain home.

Yet after all this I am often surprised that when it comes to the end of a week full of wonderful wildlife and landscape experiences in this amazing corner of Wild Spain and I ask the group for their bird of trip or Champagne moment, Wallcreeper will often not feature on either list despite having been seen by everyone. Is this because this unique bird’s legend out does the reality of its appearance or is it because in the guests hearts they expect to see one and it is the unexpected surprises that really etch themselves onto folks memories?"

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Drive by birds

2012 was a long hard year at home with all the fun and hard work that a new baby brings, and some difficult times with sick family members. Mix all of that up with a full on job that just seemed to get busier and busier as the year progressed and its little wonder that I've neglected this blog for over a year.

Male Pintail at RSPB Titchwell Marsh today.

But it’s a new year, number two son is now over a year old and hopefully personally and professionally I'll have more time in 2013 (and with luck it won't rain so much this year).

So where to start? I didn't get out much in January, the highlight probably being 90 minutes at Titchwell with a work colleague showing an old friend from Mongolia the reserve, the sea and some birds which included a lovely male Peregrine spooking the waders and wildfowl on the saltmarsh. Nice scope views too on this visit of a Water Pipit on one of the Fresh Marsh islands.

Other January bird highlights include the 'herds' of Bewick’s Swans feeding in black track side fields as my train headed south across the Fens towards Cambridge and then London. Always amazes me that I don’t see other passengers looking out the window and ‘noticing’ the wild swans, Roe Deer and other wildlife.

Whilst in London walking across Green Park to my meeting, it was lovely to hear and then see high in the canopy of a London Plane tree a Ring Necked Parakeet, a naturalised alien with some brassy charisma.

February has started cold. Yesterday a mix of rain, clouds and sun breaks at times provided some electric light with which to take photos of Curlew and Teal in Brancaster Staithe Harbour whilst no2 son had his afternoon nap in the back of the car.

Curlew at Brancaster Staithe yesterday

Today a crawl round Choseley drying barns, Burnham Overy Staithe and Brancaster Staithe harbours whilst no2 slept in the back, yielded nice views of half a dozen Bramblings, c 20 Yellowhammer and 25+ Chaffinches at the drying barns. Three Dabchicks bobbing in the waves in Burnham Overy Staithe harbour, whilst a Marsh Harrier drifted through. At Branacster Staithe harbour there was no repeat of yesterdays Water Rail but good numbers of Wigeon, Teal, Dunlin, Turnstone, Bar Tailed Godwit etc.

Chaffinch & Bramblings at Choseley drying barns today
 This afternoon I managed a short brisk walk in the cold wind at Titchwell Marsh. Nothing exceptional here but a dozen Avocets, c25 Black Tailed Godwits, and a Marsh Harrier were nice. Less usual sighting were a Weasel on the path at Parrinder Hide and three Bramblings and a Coal Tit on the feeders.