Monday, March 31, 2008

(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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