Three Days of Walking with plenty of interest, 19 - 21 February 2021

We began our 3 day weekend on Friday afternoon when I'd finished working. A less than inspiring walk around Homersfield and Flixton where the ongoing gravel workings have made a right mess of the area. The main pit at Flixton held 200+ Wigeon but there was no sign of the escaped Lesser Scaup and the flock of White-fronted Geese at Homersfield seem to have moved on. There was very little else of interest (apart from a few Fieldfares) until close to the end of the walk where I found a new plant for me in a roadside hedge - Butcher's Broom

                                                                                                                                   Butcher's Broom
 

On Saturday, after discovering that visits to the graves of family members is allowed under lockdown we drove the short distance to Wetherden to Belinda's parents graves. While Belinda tended the grave I wandered about and was pleased to see 3 Lesser Redpolls over the meadow by the church plus my first Lesser Celandines of the year and Buff-tailed Bumblebee and Honey Bees around the numerous Snowdrops in the churchyard. After that we did a long walk in the area to get our step-count up! Onn the way home coming through Diss a Great White Egret was with 15 Little Egrets on the the flooded field between Diss and Scole from Frenze Bridge.

               Lesser Celandine

                                                                                                             Buff-tailed Bumblebee

Sunday began with a run to Norwich to run some errands and chores for my parents. We were done by lunchtime so ventured the short distance out to Buxton Heath for another long walk. This site and the nearby heaths are probably the closest thing we have to real wilderness in Norfolk and it was glorious to walk and hardly see a soul. We did see some other items of interest though - while having our picnic we were serenaded by a showy Woodlark, Siskins were all over the place and in Great Wood our first butterflies of the year with 1 Peacock and 3 Brimstones in the glorious sunny conditions. On the walk back it got even better with 18 Common Crossbills north, a pair of Stonechats and then 2 Adders after much searching. The diligent searching also had other benefits with 2 new fungi found on pony dung - the rare red list Nail Fungus and Conocybe pubescens. Some colourful Yellow Curtain Crust was also spotted on a rotting birch stump. 

 

                                                                                                                       Yellowing Curtain Crust
                                                                                                                                     Nail Fungus
                                                                                                                            Conocybe pubescens

Back at home we learned of a Starling murmeration literally a mile out of the village so spent a very enjoyable dusk watching the flock throw some shapes. Into the bargain a Peregrine whizzed through them and 37 Brown Hares were in one field off Semere Lane!


   

Winter one day, spring the next! 14 & 15 February 2021

On Sunday Belinda and I did a Valentine's Day walk from home and out into the South Norfolk tundra! It was to prove to be our last chance to walk on frozen ground. Doing a bitterly cold loop to Tivetshall and back I joined the 'Woodcock Club' at last with 4 seen. Initially I flushed 3 out of a ditch just outside the village and then had another in lengthy flight over fields between the A140 and Tivetshall. Also around the walk were a herd of 5 Roe Deer, 2 Brown Hares, Mistle Thrush and a scattering of winter thrushes. A female Bullfinch was in the hedge out the front of the house and with a few Fieldfares having been driven into gardens by the harsh weather I spent some time photographing some just along the road from home. While doing so a single Lapwing flew over making it as no.55 on the 'apocolist'.

Fast forward to today and a big thaw with temperatures up to 10c! After working nearby I ventured into Homersfield and had a very pleasant stroll along the lane below the church scanning a very flooded Waveney Valley. The 9 White-fronted Geese of yesterday were still present together with 2 Great White Egrets, hundreds of Common Gulls and a calling Nuthatch. It was a joy to be out in the spring-like temperatures. 





                                                                                                                                               Fieldfares



                                                                                                            Waveney Valley at Homersfield
   

Snowy Weybread, 10 February 2021

A slight detour whilst in Harleston shopping for work supplies. 

A quick look at Ocean Pit from the road was notable for large numbers of Tufted Duck, a few Wigeon and 3 Shoveler. With the gate locked I opted to cross the road and walk the circuit around No.1 pit. Despite the path being flooded in several places I managed to wade through some snow drifts as deep as 3 feet and did the loop. Most of the interest was on the meadows between the pit and the river with a nice adult Yellow-legged Gull, 5 Snipe, several Redwings, 1 Fieldfare and 2 Song Thrushes enjoying a frost-free area. A single Little Egret was along the river. The pit itself had c25 Cormorants but little else of note. 

Geastrum britannicum - a very rare earthstar found near Norwich, 3 February 2021

The discovery of the very rare earthstar fungus known as Geastrum britannicum just outside Norwich by a friend of mine was just too good an opportunity to pass up. So, heading that way for my usual errands I stopped by for a quick look. I found them easily but they all seemed to have 'gone over'. Luckily I expanded my search and found several fresh specimens in different locations close by. 

This species has yet to be given a common English name as it was only first descibed in 2015. Since then it has been found in a very few locations. It is a UK endemic having only ever been seen here. Being similar to other species it may have been overlooked in the past and since it's discovery historical records back to 1994 have been unearthed. 

Amongst the id features are the pointed and gooved 'beak' at the top of the sac in fresh specimens, the pale 'halo' surrounding the beak, the sac having a short stalk and often a hanging 'collar' underneath. Combined with the fact that the spores are much smaller than any other earthstar. To clinch the id all these features need to be present.






  

   

BPQ, FIBO & GYBC

What does that all mean I hear you ask?!

BPQ = Birders Pub Quiz

FIBO = Fair Isle Bird Observatory

GYBC = Great Yarmouth Bird Club

The Birders Pub Quiz has been a highly entertaining weekly online birding quiz run superbly by Ashley Saunders, Mark Golley and Nick Acheson with an additional 'guest' each week. The quiz was originally launched on Twitter during the first covid lockdown and then re-launched for another 4 week run during the current lockdown. That run came to an end last night although there is talk of a future Christmas special! During these dark and often boring times this quiz has been a very welcome, friendly and light-hearted weekly distraction for many people, myself included. Many participants have got together as virtual 'teams' to make it even more of a social event. I have teamed up with my brother Jus and friend Chris Baker via Whatsapp while the quiz was run live on Twitter and latterly on Zoom. We've done pretty well, winning it one week but otherwise often coming 2nd behind the pesky Norwich team of our friend James Lowen! I'd like to thank the organisers for the fantastic job they have done and the large amount of time they have obviously given up to make it happen. It really has been a beacon of light and I've really looked forward to those Tuesday nights! 

For the last quiz the guys chose to raise money for the Fair Isle Bird Observatory fund that was set up following their disasterous fire. After setting a target of 350GBP well over 1000GBP was actually raised! A top result all round!

 

I'm a member of the local Great Yarmouth Bird Club and on Monday 22 February at 7.30 will be giving a Zoom talk and slideshow about my birding trip to Sri Lanka in Dec 2019. All are welcome so if anyone is interested please let me know and I can email you the link to the Zoom meeting.              

Norwich regulars, 27 January 2021

A flying visit to a couple of Norwich sites today whilst in the fine city doing chores and errands for my housebound parents. 

I parked by Wensum Park and walked through the park on my way to the city centre. Despite the usual drunks and drug buddies that inhabit the park I managed to see the wintering 2w Yellow-legged Gull straight away in the masses of gulls being fed. It's handy that most of them are Black-headed Gulls with just a few larger gulls making location of the bird easy.

Then, on the way out of the city I was passing within a couple of hundred yards so stopped in Hellesdon Road where 6 Ring-necked Parakeets were located high in the trees at the eastern end. Again, it was helpful that they were being quite vocal. These birds have now been in the area for 2 years. A pre-roost gathering of c25 Magpies was also there.     

Local, local, local!

The need to stay local at the moment is driving me round the bend but at least I have the garden and village paths for my exercise.

Within our garden we have a small number of mature trees. The largest by far is a massive Horse Chestnut that dominates the garden (and causes us so much work!). Second in size is a Cherry. With buds now appearing on both I decided to look more closely at them and their bark. Tree-hugging if you will but without the actual hugging! Underneath the chestnut our annual patch of Winter Aconites are now in full bloom and hinting at the botanical year ahead. A tree stump in our front garden has a nice patch of Turkeytail fungus on it and over the road opposite our drive is another patch on another stump which is a very dark blackish specimen.

Our bird feeders continue to be very disappointing this winter but in recent days 15 Greenfinches and c20 Goldfinches have been around locally in the trees opposite the house but never visit our feeders. A Mistle Thrush 2 days ago was 'Lockdown Apocolist' bird no.52 preceeded by c6 Fieldfares in a poplar over the road which were no.51. Both male and female Bullfinches have been seen too but not together. 

                                                                                                                                       Winter Aconite
                                                                                                                                       dark Turkeytail
                                                                                                                                Sweet Chestnut bud
                                                                                                                               Sweet Chestnut bark
                                                                                                                                            Cherry bud
                                                                                                                                         Cherry bark
       

Sri Lanka official trip report published.

My friend AbdulRahman Al-Sirhan has now published the 'official' trip report from our Sri Lanka adventure in December 2019. 

It can be found on his Birds of Kuwait website at https://www.birdsofkuwait.com/sri-lanka-10-20-december-2019/

It features a wealth of photographs (taken by me, AbdulRahman and Graham Sorrie) taken on the trip and is well worth a look for anyone who is interested.


 

Smockmill Common, 23 January 2021

We took a walk around local Smockmill Common yesterday. It was an extremely gloomy and grey day but brightened up with a few lingering winter fungi.

Right at the start of the walk (having just realised there are 2 species of birch) I positively id'd a mature Downy Birch by finding the downy hairs on the twigs beside the developing buds. This becomes my first 'botanical' tick of 2021. Growing on it was some Birch Woodwart and further round I found Elder Whitewash, Split Porecrust, Cramp Balls and Turkeytail. A bracket fungi had some weird growths on its underside which James Emerson has kindly confirmed are Nipple Galls caused by a fly with the superb latin name of Agathomyia wankowiczii!

Birdwise Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker were calling.

                                                                                                                                       Birch Woodwart
                                                                                                       Cramp Balls (aka King Alfred's Cakes)
                                                                                                                                  Elder Whitewash
                                                                                                                                     Nipple Galls
                                                                                                                                    Split Porecrust
                                                                                                                                  Turkeytail
    

Mousehold Heath, Norwich, 9 January 2021

After running some errands for my parents we decided to combine it with a walk from their house up onto Mousehold Heath. It turned out to be a good long walk in the winter sun and it's always nice to re-visit boyhood haunts.

There wasn't a massive lot to write home about but 2 Bramblings in a flock of finches (Chaffinches and Goldfinches) near the pitch and putt and a calling Nuthatch were nice to see. On the walk back via Vinegar Pond I found a nice Hoof Fungus on a fallen birch log which was my first in the county. Yellow Brain, Silverleaf Fungus and Jelly Ear were also seen. 

                                                                                                                                          Hoof Fungus