The Wolferton Pheasants

Wolferton Triangle, near Sandringham in West Norfolk has long been a site that visiting birders have made a beeline for - to tick Golden Pheasant.
I however have serious doubts as to whether any 'pure' Golden Pheasants now exist at the site and may not have done for many years.
The Israeli birder Yoav Perlman has recently posted a good photo on his blog (click  here to view it) which he has labelled as a Golden x Lady Amherst's hybrid. It looks like that may be the case or it could even be a hybrid with Common Pheasant a generation or two down the line. Whatever it is it isn't a pure Golden Pheasant! Or if it is then it's a product of serious inbreeding on a scale normally only seen in Suffolk! The large amount of black around the face, throat and sides of the neck are an immediate giveaway.
Having looked back on the Surfbirds galleries all the photos of 'Golden' Pheasant from the site going right back to 2004 seem to be the same (or very similar) individual showing this black. Recent photos on the RBA galleries are of the same bird.
This all goes to show that any visiting birders need to look carefully at their target bird rather than blindly ticking Golden Pheasant.
Sadly the species has dwindled to next to nothing in Norfolk with even the best previous site at Wayland Wood now having no birds left. Like it's cousin the Lady Amherst's Pheasant I fear it's heading for extinction in the UK.

Dodgy pheasant hybrid, Wolferton (copyright Paul Rowe) 

Signing off for January - off to Thailand!

I'm off to Thailand for 3 weeks very shortly so I'm signing off for January!
The trip isn't purely birding by any means but I'll be squeezing in as much as I can get away with. Doi Chiang Dao, Doi Inthanon, Krabi, Phi Phi, Khao Sok and a few other spots are already planned for some birding so I'll post a trip report on these pages when I'm back.

Be glad to see the back of all this cold and snow...

Patchwork Challenge - an update from Weybread, 24 January 2013

I ventured out to Weybread GPs this morning for the first time since the snow landed last week. It was pretty hard work but I did manage to winkle out 8 new species for the list:

Pochard (8)
Bullfinch (1 male)
Marsh Tit (1)
Goldcrest (2)
Fieldfare (c12)
Kestrel (1)
Grey Wagtail (1)
Sparrowhawk (1 fem)

In addition, our single wintering Little Egret was still about (but refusing to let me get very close with my camera!), at least 4 Kingfishers and a small cold weather influx of 14 Wigeon and c40 Great Cormorants onto the main pit.

I think it's going to be a long hard winter trying to find much more so roll on the spring!


Whitlingham CP, Norwich, 22 January 2013

What a nightmare my morning at Whitlingham turned out to be! Got my van stuck in the snow not once but about 10 times! No traction on the sheet ice whatsoever and but for help from several people and having to reverse about a mile along the lane (flanked by frozen dicthes on both sides) I'd probably still be there!
I don't think I've ever had to work so hard for one half decent shot of a bird but that's what the Slavonian Grebe took today! I'd fully intended to have a good look for Bittern too but in the end I was glad to get out of there with my van still intact. The only other notable species was a small group of Siskin in saplings by the main broad while I was photographing the grebe.


Continental Coal Tit, Pulham Market, 21 January 2013

I recenty installed a new feeding station in the garden. Determined that my local birds wouldn't suffer too much during this really harsh spell we're having. Loaded with suet, peanuts, mixed seed, fat balls and niger seed it's a michellin 3-star avian dining outlet!

It's had birds round it constantly since it went up and I've obviously been keeping a close eye on what turns up. Today I managed this photograph of a Coal Tit that has a very cold grey mantle and looks a dead cert for a 'Continental' Coal Tit (Periparus ater ater).


Sudan Golden Sparrows in Western Sahara

News revealed on Netfugl in the last few days has confirmed what we suspected when we visited in May 2010. There are Sudan Golden Sparrows within the WP -  in Western Sahara! 2 have been seen this month 'c17km SW of Aousserd'.
The road from Dahkla to Aousserd was one we explored extensively for 2 days finding such goodies as Cricket Longtail, African Dunn's Lark and Saharan Olivaceous Warbler (see the trip report here ) and at the time we mused about what else could be found out here by exploring further. The only problem with this is the remote location, a normal car fuel tank holds just enough to get from Dahkla to Aousserd and back so to venture further would presumably need reserves of fuel in cans. There is also no accommodation out there, the village of Aousserd is little more than a NATO base.

With the demise of the breeding Pied Crows on the way south and also the rather unreliable Kelp Gulls the lure for birders isn't what it was a couple of years ago but this remote corner of the WP towards the Mauritania border would undoubtedly still reward the pioneering birder...  

Goose Chase (but probably not a 'wild' one!), 13 January 2013

After finding a strange looking Canada Goose at Weybread GPs yesterday (with only my bins on me) I ventured back today armed with my camera to try and nail it.
Luckily, a quick scan of the main pit revealed it as still present but typically at the far (and most inaccessible!) end. Using the anglers carpark I trudged to the end and was lucky enough to be able to get reasonably close. The bird was in a small group of Canadas as yesterday and easily picked out on size alone.
The following are my best attempts at getting it on film.
To my eye the most obvious differences between it and it's chums is the smaller size, smaller bill, thinner and shorter neck, slightly darker breast, darker flanks and the buff-toned and slightly narrower face/chin patch. The bird apprears to be a 1st winter.
After much reading I feel the bird is probably closer to the race 'parvipes' than 'hutchinsii' but I'd be very grateful for any thoughts or comments anyone has.
Having said all that the kindest thing that can probably be said of it is it's of 'unknown origin'!    

Other than that I managed to add another 15 species to my Patchwork Challenge list bringing it up to a round 50 in 2 visits. It's all go here!


Patchwork Challenge 2013

A few days ago I decided to sign up for the 2013 Patchwork Challenge. This initiative has a light-hearted competition element but the main aim is to get people out birding their local patches and that's the reason I've gone for it. Let's face it, with the patch I've chosen I've NO chance of winning anyway!

Full details of what the Patchwork Challenge is all about can be found at here

The patch I've chosen is at Weybread Gravel Pits and the adjacent Waveney Valley close to the market town of Harleston. Most of the patch is just into Suffolk but the river forms the county boundary so parts are in my home county of Norfolk. The maps below show the location. In line with the rules the area covered is within 3 square km (in facts it's 2.932!)

Today (12 Jan 2013) I spent a couple of hours walking around the main pit to kick things off.
The highlights were:
Kingfisher - c6
Little Egret - 1
Goosander - 1 (fem)
[prob Richardson's Canada Goose] - 1 (with Greater Canada Geese)
Water Rail - 1
Common Buzzard - 1
Great Crested Grebe - c30
Wigeon - 1

Thetford, 6 January 2013

The Thetford Black-bellied Dipper has finally been nailed down to the area of streams around Nun's Bridges just off the River Thet. We called in on the way to do some mountain biking at Santon Downham and it performed superbly well to the small group of birders present. Other than that 3 Nuthatches, c6 Marsh Tits and several Coal Tits whilst cycling was about it.

Dunwich Heath, Suffolk, 4 January 2013

Not exactly birding but a walk around Dunwich Heath with a bunch of schoolchildren (Belinda's childminding charges) isn't without it's benefits! Apart from 10 geocaches I managed to winkle out 5 Dartford Warblers (including a singing male) and a large herd of Red Deer that the kids thought were great. A visit to Minsmere cafe followed and revealed a Marsh Tit visiting the feeders by the centre. Disappointing to note how poor the selection of birding books is in the RSPB shop there now. They seem more intent on selling bird-related nik naks and general tat!

Red Deer, Dunwich Heath