Alton Water quickie, 29 December 2013

After a country ramble in the beautiful Dedham Vale today (nothing of note except several small groups of Redwings and Fieldfares) we had just enough time for a brief stop at Alton Water before the drive back up the A140. 

Parking up close to the sailing club (and completely ignoring the pay and display machines!) I made my way across the grass to a suitable vantage point and after a quick 2 minute scan had the juvenile Black-throated Diver I'd come to see. A further scan revealed good numbers of Little Grebes, even better numbers of Great Crested Grebes and then a welcome female Red-crested Pochard.

The year's not quite over! 28 December 2013

With a day to myself and cloudless blue skies it would have been a shame not to make the most of it and do some birding. So it was off to the Lowestoft area.

My main aim was to see the Glossy Ibis of the last few days at Oulton Marshes but having never been to the site before I spent ages trying to find where to access the reserve! After much map consulting, scanning for an elusive 'viewing platform' and then a lengthy and muddy walk I eventually found the spot. Luckily the ibis was in view on arrival and showed nicely albeit a little distant. It had a fly round at one point and landed in a spot slightly closer and in better light enabling a bit of phone scoping for a record shot. A lovely male Hen Harrier flew through and both Marsh Harrier and a Common Buzzard circled overhead. On the trudge back a male Bullfinch added a splash of colour to proceedings.

Glossy Ibis, Oulton Marshes

Glossy Ibis, Oulton Marshes

I then drove the short distance to Waveney Forest and walked to the 'viewing mound' where it's possible to gain some height to view a nice vista of Haddiscoe Island. One of the wintering Rough-legged Buzzards (the adult) was perched on a gate in the middle of the marsh with a Chinese Water Deer in close attendance but despite a good look I couldn't find any other raptors at all. The newly created clearfell area in woods yielded a flock of c20 Common Crossbills on the way back to the car.
Rough-legged Buzzard (and Chinese Water Deer), Haddiscoe Island

2013 - The birding year that was

It's Christmas Eve so it seems like a good time to reflect on my birding year.

My British birding has been a little curtailed in 2013 which has been a year in which I think I've finally outgrown the whole twitching and UK listing thing. I've done my fair share of twitching in the past but this aspect of birding has become less and less attractive to me over the last few years. The huge cost of twitching these days and the fact that the vast majority of good birds are turning up in such far flung places have combined to put me off. I was never one to twitch the highlands and islands anyway.

Locally I've been doing bit and bobs when the mood and other time pressures have allowed me. Highlights for me have been the showy Thetford Black-bellied Dipper, the lovely Eastern Subalpine Warbler at Landguard in April, a month where an inland find of a Ring Ouzel on my patch at Weybread GPs got me excited anyway! Nightingales singing on a beautiful spring day in deepest Suffolk also lingers in the memory as does the long staying Red-footed Falcon at Lakenheath. My best find of the year was saved for June when a splendid Black Kite graced the skies over Brockdish. The 'Italian' Sparrow up at Northrepps was probably the biggest poser of the year while I also particularly enjoyed the Ouse Washes Northern Harrier (mainly due to how hard I had to work for it!), Red-flanked Bluetail and Pallas's Warbler on one great afternoon in east Norfolk and finally a dozen Parrot Crossbills up at my old stomping ground of Holt CP.   

Foreign birding was once again to the fore, a trend which looks set to continue in the years ahead. With the cessation of my birding tours it was just 2 personal trips this year - Thailand in February and Georgia in May. The former was amazing and although not a full on birding trip I still managed a trip list of 214 with 132 lifers. Highlights are almost impossible to pick out of the array of great birds I saw but if I had to name a few they'd include Silver-eared Mesia, Mrs Gould's Sunbird, Pied Imperial Pigeon, Pygmy Cupwing, Chestnut-headed Tesia, White-browed Shrike Babbler, White-capped Water Redstart, Giant Nuthatch, Maroon Oriole, Silver Pheasant, Siberian Blue Robin, Large Hawk Cuckoo...

Georgia was also a great birding experience despite missing Guldenstadt's Redstart. With Great Rosefinch, Caucasian Snowcock, Caucasian Black Grouse, Lammergeier, Mountain Chiffchaff etc set against the stunning back drop of the mountains it's hard to complain!

So, what of 2014? Well, 3 weeks in Costa Rica in February is certainly something to look forward to...

Eastern Subalpine Warbler, Landguard, Suffolk 

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Khao Sok, Thailand

The Wonderful World of Fungi!

I've been taking a close look at any fungi I've encountered this autumn and taken a few pictures. These are the ones I've managed to identify so far. The identification of some of the others I have photos of is still being looked into and it's a bit of a minefield to be honest!
Last month we encountered loads of Field Parasols in the woods around Minsmere and they proved to be very tasty indeed!

Aleuria aurantia, Orange Peel Fungus

Xylaria hypoxylon, Candlesnuff Fungus

Xylaria polymorpha, Dead Mans Fingers

Amanita muscaria, Fly Agaric

Amanita muscaria, Fly Agaric

Chlorophyllum rhacodes, Shaggy Parasol


The Parrot Sketch! Holt Country Park, Norfolk, 24 November 2013

Enjoyed some marvellous views of Parrot Crossbills around the carpark at Holt CP today. Having not seen the Glaucous Gull at Edgefield tip on the way through (the flock had dispersed 20 mins before we got there and I couldn't be bothered to hang around!) we arrived at Holt CP at just the right time as c5 Parrot Crossbills were showing in the trees above the visitor centre and when the sun came out 2 males descended to a lower sappling enabling me to get a couple of reasonable record shots. A nice Red Kite circled quickly over and 2 Marsh Tits appeared at close range. A little later the whole flock of 12 Parrot Crossbills were seen flying around the carpark but always landing right in the treetops.

After that Belinda and I had a long walk around Holt Lowes where we had a single presumably Common Crossbill fly over but bugger all else!

Next we nipped to Cley (clocking a Common Buzzard en route) for a quick park and gawp at a Black Brant amongst the Brents at the entrance to Beach Road before a much needed coffee and a walk around Blakeney. Back at the car a Barn Owl hunting Friary Hills finished the day off nicely.  

Parrot Crossbill

Parrot Crossbill

Parrot Crossbills

Black Brant

Dark-bellied Brents

Northern Harrier etc, Cambs, 26 October 2013

A completely unplanned days birding while Belinda was out doing wedding stuff.
I'd only thought about giving the Two-barred Crossbill at Lynford Arboretum a few hours but after spending a fruitless 3 hours there where there were c20 Common Crossbills, 3 Nuthatches, Sparrowhawk, 2 Mistle Thrushes, 2 Redwings, Coals Tits but nothing with any wingbars except Chaffinches I decided to move on.

So, the Ouse Washes in Cambs it was to see the Northern Harrier of the last few days. Starting off on the east side just south of the railway bridge I was reliably informed by Mike Sidwell, Trevor Davies and Richard Allison that it hadn't been see for 2 hours - great! It did eventually show at enormous distance but with only my bins with me I had no chance except a crafty look through Trevor's scope. Even then we laughed at the 'views' we were getting. I then made the good call of driving the long way round to the RSPB reserve on the west side where I walked to Grose Hide to find the bird sat on the grass only 200 yards away - at last! After 10 minutes it got up and had a good fly round before heading north.
5 Marsh Harriers and a standard Hen Harrier were also seen but other than the usual wildfowl suspects little else.

Common Crossbills

Plenty of Crossbills but nothing with wingbars!

Northern Harrier, Ouse Washes

Northern Harrier and Pymore Railway bridge, Ouse Washes

Boring Patchwork! Weybread GPs, 15 October 2013

I worked the patch at Weybread for a couple of hours this afternoon and it was hard work! Very little to write home about from the walk alongside Ocean Pit:

Great Black-backed Gull - 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull - 7
Cormorant - 5
Grey Heron - 1
Great Crested Grebe - c50
Egyptian Goose - 2
Little Grebe - 1
Wigeon - 2
Tufted Duck - 22
Kingfisher - 2
Treecreeper - 1
Long-tailed Tit - 30

Migrant Hawker - c10
Common Darter - 2
Comma - 1
Small Tortoiseshell - 1

Migrant Hawkers 'at it'!


Long-tailed Tit

East Norfolk goodies, 14 October 2013

Having been unable to venture out over the weekend today was my first chance to get up to the East Norfolk coast for some of the waifs and strays that the weather has brought in over the last couple of days.
I made a beeline for Whimpwell Green, just inland of Happisburgh first and with a bit of patience managed some half decent views of the Red-flanked Bluetail which proved to be the trickiest one I've seen to get some views of. By leaving the small crowd and getting a different angle on things I managed to get some better views and even a record shot or two. A Pied Flycatcher was also a welcome addition to the days list. Plenty of grey-looking continental Robins around too and Redwings moving over in good numbers.

After grabbing some lunch in Sea Palling I made my way to Winterton for the afternoon. Walking the short distance to the totem pole in the North Dunes had me soon getting some lovely views of Pallas's Warbler with Goldcrests in birch scrub. I'd not seen one of these little beauties for a while so it was very welcome indeed. If only I could have got a shot of it! The bushes also held a couple of Chiffchaffs. A walk all the way north to the concrete blocks is best forgotten as all I managed was good numbers of Swallows moving south, 3 Stonechats and a Green Woodpecker! The flock of assorted redpolls had long since departed.
Odonata today was quite limited with Red Admiral, an extremely late Small Heath, Migrant Hawker and several Common Darters

British Bumblebee id

This summer I started trying to get to grips with bumblebee id and found it a bit of a minefield until I got my eye in and got used to what to look for. The following plates are some I found online and the diagramatic style helped me quite a bit. They seemed much better for id compared to photographs which at a first glance (and often 2nd glance) all looked the same!
There aren't too many bumblebees still about but hopefully this will prove useful next spring when these little beauties are back on the wing.


Caister, Norfolk, 6 October 2013

As I'd not connected with the long-staying Rose-coloured Starling at Caister we made our way in that direction today. Arriving at the carpark at the seaward end of Beach Road I located the bird almost immediately flying round with a flock of c50 Starlings. Luckily they landed on the chimneys of some terrace houses and I was able to get pretty close for some photos. Nothing much else to report from there except a Comma, Small Whites, Small Tortoiseshells and Peacock butterflies still out.

A walk through the valley in Winterton South Dunes followed and after a fait bit of searching I found the juvenile Cuckoo which gave some good views (it must have known I'd left my camera in the car!). I was keen to see such a late bird, my latest record by a long way. Apart from that a single Chiffchaff and Small Copper were all I had to show for my efforts.

Rose-coloured Starling, Caister 


Great Cormorant

Hedgehog on the patio - Pulham Market