Sunday, June 22, 2008

Norfolk nibbles

Gill was so impressed with Swallowtail butterflies in June 2006, that she wanted to see them again this year. A house in Sheringham was duly rented (chosen partly for its selection of children's toys!) for the week beginning 14th June and we set off on the evening of the ominously titled Friday 13th, staying overnight with my brother in law and family in Solihull, near the M42. On the Saturday we headed east and paused to overlook Manton Bay at Rutland Water, where we hoped for some easy raptor watching. Sure enough, Ospreys were easy to see from the main road, with their nest looming large on a post about 200 yards away.
Apologies for the fuzziness, but it was very heat hazy, in a strong, warm wind. Our first Marsh Harrier was near Wisbech, and a Red Legged Partridge played chicken with the traffic near Fakenham. As it was now quite showery, we headed to Sheringham and found our accomodation, which was very nice!
Sunday was dry, bright and breezy.
A brisk walk along the seafront at Sheringham produced Common and Sandwich Terns.
We headed to How Hill, scene of a butterfly triumph in 2006. After a while, Swallowtails began to appear. Success again!
Norfolk Hawkers flitted past, without pausing to be snapped. How inconsiderate!
Marsh Harriers and Common Terns performed well around us.
An evening stroll along the East Bank at Cley revealed a couple of fleeting (and flitting) Bearded Tits, several Marsh Harriers, many Avocets and a cool breeze.
I drove past the reserve and turned along the road to the west of the reserve, and was rewarded by a close flypast from a Barn Owl. From the beach car park, it was visible hunting near the windmill.
Someone will have taken this photo properly at some point, so that you can see that the white smudge IS a Barn Owl. It was nearly 9pm by now though!
The light was fading fast, but I decided to quickly scan the reserve from outside CleySpy (the old Visitor Centre), and was delighted to find 3 Spoonbills just west of the hides. Time to go home!
Monday was bright again, and we headed to the Railway station to catch the train to Holt.
Gill and Rosie headed off into Holt for lunch, and I caught the train back to Sheringham. A bird flew up from a field near the train, at first I thought Skylark, but then I realised that it had a very short tail, Woodlark, the chuffing of the train drowned out any chance of hearing it sing.
I drove up to Holt to meet Gill and Rosie, and we headed off to the grounds of Holkham Hall. Soon , several Egyptian Geese appeared:
as did lots of the resident deer. What sort? This sort:
Well spotted!
On Tuesday, I was seawatching from Sheringham by 0615, although conditions weren't particularly suitable.
In about 75 minutes, I found a steady stream of Gannets, Common, Sandwich and a few Little Terns, a very close in Fulmar, a Guillimot, 10 Common Scoter, and a friendly Turnstone.
Acting on a tip-off from Birdguides, we headed to Sea Palling to look for a decent bird that had been reported from there. After 45 minutes, we gave up, and took Rosie onto the sandy beach there for a while. She wasn't over impressed, so we headed to Wroxham, as Gill fancied a boat trip. We found the grockle boats, including a Mississippi style monstrosity, and rethought.
A short walk took us to Tourist Information, where a very nice lady suggested that a short drive to Barton Broad could help us, as there is a solar powered boat "Ra" that runs from there. She even rang up and booked us on it. In the end, there were us three, another couple, and the driver, sorry, captain(?).
He took all the way around the broad, explaining it's history and slowing to allow us better views of wildlife such as this:
An excellent 75 minutes, and very good value. The boat was the first in Britain to run on Solar power, apparently. It has a lot of batteries to store the energy for those typical summer days.
OK, then, I now knew why we hadn't found our bird at Sea Palling earlier. We had been in the wrong place, doh! So back we went, and within about 30 seconds of arriving, this beastie was posing for us:
Gorgeous! Only the 2nd male Red Backed Shrike I'd seen. The other one was in pouring rain on Teesside many years ago, with fumes and smoke from Redcar Steel Works wafting past.
A drizzly Wednesday morning saw us head to Holme to wander in the dunes, where we found a gentlemen photographing a plant. When quizzed, he told us that it was the only Man Orchid known in Norfolk. So here it is:
Hmmm. Impressed? Nor was I. Who am I to comment though, when the basis for this holiday was to travel 300 miles to see a type of insect?
Anyway, we wandered on, and whilst pausing for a picnic, I noticed a couple of birds on wires not too far away, they were Turtle Doves, which we were hoping to see. Before I could get the scope set up, they were on their way. Another one flew past as we headed back to the car.
Next stop, Titchwell.
A pair of Red Crested Pochard showed on the left of the path, but the main reason for calling in was an impressive number of Little Gulls on the freshmarsh, at least 30 of them.
As I am used to seeing them as distant dots in Cardiff Bay, this was excellent.
On a very warm Thursday, we went to see the captive beasties at Pensthorpe. Not an obvious choice of venue, but surprisingly good for close up views of Bearded Tits, Turtle Doves, Avocets, Black Winged Stilts and Ruff, all in one aviary. Various species of crane were in special enclosures to minimise contact with humans, and Corncrakes were an interesting diversion.
Gill was so impressed that I left her and Rosie there, and nipped a couple of miles away to look for raptors at Great Ryburgh. An hour later I collected the rest of the family, and we tried again for raptors, this time we soon found a Honey Buzzard, low over the woods nearby. The bird, believed to be the male, as the female was still believed to be on eggs, flew around for several minutes, giving the assembled throng (about 10 of us) good views.
I dropped the girls back to Sheringham, and headed west to a site for an even rarer breeding raptor. 2 hours later, I had seen several Marsh Harriers, and a Barn Owl, but no Montys. I'd missed the female by a few minutes, apparently. The first nest had been predated by a fox, and she'd been injured by it, and lost most of her tail. They had relaid, and therefore she was still on eggs.
By about 0620 on Friday, I was on the east bank at Cley again. This time scanning the terns for something a bit special. Soon I picked out my first Roseate Terns since I lived in North East in 1999. There were two of them, one ringed. I briefly found an Arctic Tern, but as I focussed on it, the flock was spooked by a Grey Heron, and they headed west, presumably to Blakeney Point.
A showery morning was spent at the Swimming Pool in Sheringham, preventing Rosie (and I)from drowning.
After an early lunch, sunshine appeared, and we headed to nearby Kelling Heath, to look for Silver Studded Blues, which were apparently just emerging. However, a good hunt around, even with the assistance of the very helpful warden, proved unsuccessful. It was, however, a lovely spot, with the railway running through it.
We popped to Weybourne beach, where Rosie tried to eat shingle, and then home.
On Saturday, as we were about to load up, I spotted a puncture due to a massive nail in a tyre on our car, so by the time we set off, the early morning sunshine had been replaced by drizzle, and soon it became torrential.
As we approached Weeting Heath, I received a Birdguides text informing me of a Lesser Grey Shrike near Hicking Broad, at a site with no public access, so we carried on, and dodging the showers, found the obligatory Stone Curlew. Rosie explored the floor in the Visitor Centre, and we visited the hides in shifts!
The weather was now very wet and dreary, so we decided that Golden Orioles were unlikely to show, and headed home, pausing only for tea with the rellys in Solihull.
I was somewhat miffed later to see good pictures of the LGS on t'internet, as access had been arranged a bit later on.
Never mind, some good birds in a lovely part of Norfolk, and a very pleasant holiday. Some decent, though expensive, beer also!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

TTV - Terrifying Tetrad Visit

No Father's Day lie in for me today. I was up with the lark (although you'd be bloody lucky to see a lark anywhere near Whitchurch) and counting birds for the BTO Atlas by 6.30am. I was expecting a quiet walk with few surprises but it turned out to be more like a scene out of Hitchcock's 'The Birds'. Everything was un-eventful to begin with - the usual exciting Whitchurch fare . . . House Sparrows, Magpies, Woodpigeons, LBBGs, Feral Pigeons etc. But then, things turned nasty in a field above the Glamorgan Canal where I found myself surrounded by millions of Jackdaws making a hell of a din . . . . .

Aaaaarrgh! How was I going to enter this on the BTO Atlas website?!? Having got the dreaded "Unusually high count" taunt after I recently submittted a record of 'Spotted Flycatcher - 2' how the hell was the BTO going to react when I submitted 'Eurasian Jackdaw - 3,000,000 +'?!? "Bog off you crap birder" perhaps?

To make things worse these cawing corvids made such a cacophony of noise I couldn't hear any other birds. Even if I could get my concentration back I wouldn't be able to hear any other birds calling. Aaaargh . . . a misrepresentative count of ST18K!!!

Aaaaaargh - nobody told me atlassing would be like this!

I ran for the peace and quiet of the woods around Glamorgan Canal only to be aurally assaulted on both sides by the loudest Wrens and Song Thrushes I've ever heard. Then I was goaded by juvenile birds making unidentifiable little seeeping calls high up in the canopy - birds which, of course, refused to reveal themselves.

Moments later I nearly jumped out of my skin when something crashed through the branches landing with a dull thud on the ground behind a nearby bush. I never found out what it was but I'd like to think that it was Grey Squirrell that had lost his footing.

BTO Atlassing - it really screws you up.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Insect Season

So we're now into the fallow period of June and July where there's not a dickie bird to be seen anywhere. In Glamorgan at least! After a very quiet TTV this morning, I took advantage of some sun and warmth to track down a few insects at Clydach Vale. Damselflies were everywhere and many were mating.

Large Red Damselfly

This is also good spot for butterflies, especially two fritillary species. I tracked down five Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries and a lone, strong-flying Dark Green Fritillary too. There'll probably be more of these around in a week or two.

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary

Dark Green Fritillary
A few other common butterflies were on the wing, and a little later in the morning I got another Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary at Penrhiwfer. No Marsh Fritillaries though. A huge Golden-ringed Dragonfly wouldn't keep still for a photo and neither would a Burnet Companion moth.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Nightjars normally nibble at night

Llanwonno Forest 8th June: Dan, Wayne, my mother and I visited this traditional Nightjar site, and had no problem finding these amazing creatures. Several were seen perched and in flight, there was much churring, and some croaking. A lifer for my mother, hopefully we can take The Twitchmeister in 2009!