Monday, March 31, 2008

(not) Spring 08 holiday, day 8

Day eight, Friday, my weather optimism turned out to be completely unfounded, it was grey with building rain which promised to get really heavy by lunchtime. Oh well best head back to Minsmere then. From the path to the Island Mere hide this female Green Woodpecker was foraging for ants:

A Greylag Goose flew very close to, in front of the hide:

And this pair of Marsh Harriers looked like they were practicing food swaps in the air!

On the stands in the water in front of the hide four Great Cormorants. I like the way they all have their 'personal space', when another bird tries to get on in the middle the residents don't let it:

Finally, this bird has a huge stick I believe demonstrating its readiness to pair and breed:

The rain set in as we headed to Sizewell in the hope of seeing a Black Redstart but it just got heavier and heavier. In the end we'd got bored of cups of tea in cafes and getting soaked running short distances and decided that rain had stopped play so we sloped back to our hotel. Considering how much rain, sleet, snow we'd had combined with near continual heavy winds, losing half a day wasn't so bad...

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(not) Spring 08 holiday, day 7

We woke up in a B&B cum hotel in Great Yarmouth that was plastered in no smoking signs, but with a landlady who must chain smoke about 60 a day, so we smoked all evening, night and morning, which was unfortunate. This context prompted an early start and a quick exit, so we headed back up the area around Hickling Broad and drove around looking for cranes. 90 minutes later, it was still raining and we'd seen nothing, so we headed down to Lowestoft to see if any Kittiwakes were on the 'cliff' at the harbour entrance, there were about 20 birds including one sat on a nest, though I doubt it was brooding yet. Kittiwakes make a fantastic noise when a new bird comes into perch but it was raining and in low light and at a distance it wasn't possible to take any decent images.

From Lowestoft we headed to Minsmere ( another jewel in the crown of British nature reserves.

On the walk to the Island Mere hide, this male Stonechat appeared:

I've posted quite a few Stonechat pictures recently but the orange on this bird is quite striking, hence its inclusion. All along the path we could hear woodpeckers drumming and Green Woodpeckers yaffling, rabbits everywhere, Minsmere really does feel truly alive, unlike so much of the controlled space we inhabit day to day. From the Island Mere hide, we were surprised to find another Snipe out in the open and really close to the hide. I believe this is due like in so many other parts of the country to exceptionally high water levels. A lot of the islands used for feeding and nesting remain under water, hence they are pushed out into the open.

From the Island Mere hide we headed back to the visitor centre for lunch (I strongly recommend the jacket spud with veggie chilli option!) and from there we decided to walk out to the East and public hides between the beach and the scrape. On the scrape itself and clearly visible from the hide, this Mediterranean Gull landed and started to preen:

This picture shows the clear differences, in Summer, between the adult Med Gull and the adult Black-headed Gull, including the colouration of their respective 'caps', the Med's 'white-wings' and its bright red bill:

Here the gull is joined by another and together they preened, although we didn't witness any allopreening (that is where they preen each other):

The Black-headed Gulls clearly were in the mood for Spring despite all the evidence that winter hadn't yet let go, this adult is displaying, swimming along flattened and and stretched:

here you can see them mounting, though the position suggests they weren't actually mating:

Also visible, another couple of Snipe, and one bird that I think is a Dunlin but it's very 'orangey', perhaps a consequence of sunlight?

We headed along the beach, walking in the (still) driving winds to the sluice and onto the path towards the South and West hides. On the path between the sluice and and the South hide, Helen spotted a bird that looked like an 'unusual Robin' hopping along and darting in and out of the reeds along the edge of the path. I turned the camera on it, both to magnify the bird and to take some pictures and immediately thought I could see some blue colour on the throat, though the bird was mostly heading away from us and in low/broken light. The sun was starting to break through the clouds though and from time to time the bird turned to 90 degrees and even once face on, as you can see from these pictures:

You can tell from the second photograph that the bird has a little if any spot, which makes it a white-spotted Bluethroat (if it has a red spot its red-spotted but with or without a white spot it is white-spotted). We were delighted and excited by our discovery and were surprised no one else was about, we'd seen a group of birders walk along the path in front of us for example. We decided to inform the staff at the visitor centre and I showed the pictures to a couple of birders we met in the South hide, en route. Over the next couple of days quite a few people came to have a look at the bird, which was showing well in exactly the same spot we first identified it. I gather the chaps we advised got some pictures on the Internet that night, the local RSPB staff wanted to locate and identify the bird themselves before confirming the sighting, which I understand as we know how many birds we've got wrong for example :) I gather there were two Bluethroats in the country at the time, the other one was locally in Winterton. There are many better pictures of the bird on the Internet now.

From Minsmere, and with some reasonable light we headed to Dunwich Heath to try and locate the Dartford Warblers resident there. We met up with another group of four birders from Cheshire with the same goal, one of whom had a bird call identifier which did a very good job on persuading this female to show herself:

The males were much more elusive, I managed a single shot of one, here:

With the light fading fast, these Red Deer were browsing on the heath, escapees I believe from a deer farm we'd passed locally:

One of the birders we'd met up with told us he'd been birdwatching 20 years and had only seen his first Bluethroat that morning (at Winterton), so all in all a deeply satisfying day and could it be the weather was finally improving?!

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(not) Spring 08 holiday, day 6

Day six and the holiday is entering its second-half, which is a little sad but that's the way it goes when you only get 20 days annual leave a year!

We decided to have a walk at Blicking Hall (National Trust). Always a good idea to arrive at the time the property opens, as invariably you get to park close to the entrance, no queues and you can be off and walking/running before the mob descends...

The first birds were these Egyptian Geese getting Spring fighty/flighty despite the snow lingering:

A little way on, still not past the end of the lake in front of the house and, guess what, another Barn Owl:

What is it about Barn Owls in Norfolk? We've seen these birds throughout the day, albeit different birds in different spots. We walked into the woodland and were delighted with the sound of Nuthatches, an unmistakable song and a real delight to hear :)

This individual has a nut:

This one is grubbing in the top of this snapped tree:

Blickling gardens may have thousands of Spring bulbs but Winter was resolutely hanging on, despite it being after Easter and after the Spring equinox.... bah humbug! Anyway, the Crocuses were very pretty:

From Blickling we headed to Hickling Broad to see what was about. In short the reserve was very quiet, almost holding its breath, until the migrants arrive. We did get to hear a few Cetti's Warblers, unmistakable and probably louder gram for gram than the Wren! The only bird of note seen from the reserve, and a new bird for us as well, representatives of a small but crucial population for our Island, the Common Crane! A group of three high above, spotted by Helen who spotted every single one of the new birds on this holiday:

these birds are soaring specialists:

You'll have to click to see some plumage and colouration detail. Try, as indeed we did, on a number of occasions, this was our only fleeting sighting of these magnificent birds.

My next contribution was to suggest we stood watch at Stubb Mill for the raptor and Crane roost. We arrived at 4pm, a touch early considering dusk was around 18:30 ish. By five we were frozen solid, with the continual breeze, failing sunlight and very low temperatures combining to drain any heat away, despite being wrapped in full winter-wear for the sixth straight day. By 17:30 morale was flagging, we'd seen no sign of the Cranes, around ten Marsh Harriers and nothing else of note. By 17:45 with all extremities frozen solid we trudged back to the car. Note to self: raptor roost most populous in January, and an hour before dusk is optimal!

I did manage a single decent photograph of a Male Marsh Harrier during our vigil:

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(not) Spring 08 holiday, day 5, part 2

Other birds about included this lone Ruff, distinguished by the white ring around the bill:

an Oystercatcher trying to reach the parts that are harder to get to:

an Avocet that had just caught a meal:

and finally, another pink plumaged Black-headed Gull:

From Titchwell after a hearty jacket spud lunch, we drove to Burnham Deepdale for a walk in search of raptors, around an old mill and some salt marshes. The first bird of note we spotted was, you guessed it, another Barn Owl, that's now four in four days, a bit of a theme developing here...

The Owl settled briefly, which enabled me to get a sharper focus:

On the walk around, we spotted this strange looking Pink-footed Goose, in the company of both Canada Geese and other Pink-foots. I presume it is leucistic, with reduced pigment in its feathers:

We got really quite close to this Little Egret, mooching around in a pool, before completing quite a wearing trek around, the ground being sodden and boggy, but another distinct and wildlife friendly part of the 'bird coast'.

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(not) Spring 08 holiday, day 5, part 1

Day five and the BBC weather forecast says sunshine, all day, with only the possibility of wintry showers and no wind!! We decided to make the most of this break in the weather and got up and out before the hotel had even started preparing breakfast. First stop the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve at Cley. It was early so the light was strong but very 'angular'. We were the wrong side of this Pink-footed Goose to get a really good identification photograph but I love the way it's stretching out its wings and the impression of power this gives as well as the overall form in the photograph:

We decided to walk the perimeter first as Jake had told me about the Shore Larks (also known as Horned Larks) present just off the top of East Bank. It turns out East Bank is the raised walkway between the NWT and NT reserves. We did encounter some small birds along the walkway itself, Meadow Pipits, including this individual:

We headed out into the NT area first but the wind was howling (so much for the forecast) and pretty quickly it became deeply uncomfortable (to warm loving softies like us anyway) so we headed back to the NWT section of beach. About halfway along Helen spotted a small group of three birds, moving along one section of the shingle barrier, and bingo! Shore Larks:

Very 'cute' looking birds, with the yellow and black facial plumage:

This photograph illustrates their characteristic low crouch, as they 'waddle' their way along the shingle, searching for food:

Great little birds. I'd have taken better photos but the wind was truly howling along the coast and some muppet (me) had somehow managed to turn-off the image stabiliser in the lens... which I discovered about 45 minutes later... Also a small milestone passed whilst photographing these birds - 10,000 images taken with my Canon 400d!

Anyway, as you can see the sea was consequentially very rough:

We headed back on to the reserve itself to see what was about. Again a lone Black Swan, no doubt the same individual we saw at Cley two years back. Swans shouldn't be alone, but as this Swan's native home range is Australia and New Zealand the chances of finding a mate are slim...

Also about, plenty of Lapwing, including this individual photographed from within a hide. I don't know what the 'knobbly bits' are on its beak and face - mud?

Finally a female Stonechat. I really like the 'pose' in this picture:

We ambushed the staff in the visitor centre for breakfast when it opened at 10am and managed to extract tea, coffee and cake from them!

From Cley we headed to where we understood the White-crowned Sparrow remained, but alas he has moved on... we did notice something unusual however on the feeder he was renowned to visit. Clue - not the Dunnock:

Following directions from a birder we'd met at Titchwell and again at Wells we located this Little Owl on a tree near Titchwell. I got too close and disturbed it, which I very much regret, we left it be and moved on quickly. Fantastic bird to see in daylight though:

Next stop Titchwell again, we spotted Woodcock and Water Rail from the path to the visitor centre but under too much cover to photograph. This male Brambling was one of many on the feeders:

On the path to the reserve a Wren popped up and had a real shout at us - this is the only photograph I took where the bill isn't blurred:

As we entered the second hide, a couple were watching a Snipe, really close to the window. You can tell how close it was as this is all I could fit into the frame at 840x:

I fumbled about removing the teleconverter to reduce the zoom to 600x, meanwhile the bird moved a little further out:

I said to Helen afterwards that I'd probably never get to take a better photograph of a snipe. Please click on the picture, the plumage is truly stunning.

The wind was really blowing strongly across the reserve, you can see the various tactics deployed by the Black-tailed Godwits in dealing with it here:

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