Sunday, September 20, 2009

Spring Tide at Snettisham - Sunday

Although there was a later high tide at Snettisham we decided that rather than go back to the same spot we'd start further along the Beach at Snettisham Marsh, which had a car park next to a small nature reserve (and guess what the land next the nature reserve has been bought by a gun club for shooting - cynical scumbags).

Anyway another foregone breakfast and an early-ish start saw us on the beach by 8:15am. We weren't sure what we'd find but were delighted to be only ten minutes walk from a group of flighty waders:

They were clearly agitated at the exceptionally high water levels had pushed them off their feeding grounds for probably the fourth or fifth day running. The flock was tightly packed:

With some birds trying to snooze between flights offshore and back again:

As well as Ringed Plover the flock contained Dunlin and Sanderling:

In the distance where we'd been yesterday we could see a huge flock of waders wheeling around in the sky watched by a smaller group of birders than on Saturday but I bet they were loving it! My ears were hurting with the combination of wind and cold so we headed back for a walk around said nature reserve and were delighted to find a Lesser Whitethroat, seen here with a Long-tailed Tit:

The reserve was very busy with dog walkers so whilst there were birds there they weren't staying put for long. A post dawn visit one morning during Autumn migration could well turn up a few interesting migrants on another day.

From Snettisham Marsh we headed to Welney WWT to pop in for a mooch around a cup of tea. We got there just after it opened and thoroughly enjoyed ten minutes on the 'hirundine bridge' that is the walkway that connects the reserve with the visitor centre, which was being buzzed by loads of Barn Swallows and House Martins, a last blush of summer. Also on the bridge a distant Meadow Pipit was outshone by a reasonably close perched Yellow Wagtail:

Another Beautiful Bird! While the reserve was quiet by the river the air was buzzing with dragonflies and there were still plenty of butterflies around including this Red Admiral, though it wouldn't oblige and display its wings:

We had a great weekend even though we were home by lunchtime on Sunday, Snettisham at high tide is great and we'll definitely be back. The Wryneck makes our UK list 227 and our life list 657 :)

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Spring Tide at Snettisham - Saturday

We've been looking forward to this weekend for some time. The combination of a spring tide at Snettisham, just after dawn, on a weekend, post-dissertation was something to get quite excited about. We got to the RSPB car park on Saturday morning around 5:45am and then walked in the first light of day towards the reserve.

We were surprised at how many people chose to drive all the way up to the reserve, there must have been 20 or 30 cars where there should have been none. We walked carrying lots of kit the mile and a half to the spot we wanted to watch the spectacle from.

The weather forecast was nearly right, it was millpond still, reasonably warm but unfortunately cloudy, some sunshine would have meant fantastic photography opportunities, but we had to make do with low light conditions. As well as Helen and I we reckon about 100 keen enthusiasts had gathered, including Bill Bailey, which was a surprise, he was doing something to camera with the spectacle of wheeling groups of waders behind him.

Anyway what we did manage to record at this stage was only moving pictures, the lack of light meant the telephoto I'd lugged was proving mostly useless. Here you can see a group of waders on the shore with more birds flying past:

And here with the camera pointed skyward a vast movement of geese and gulls from their roosts to feed inland:

By the time the tide reached its highest point the majority of the waders had moved on to other locations, leaving this section of the beach empty, so we headed into one of the hides at the end of the far lagoon to see what had settled there.

Here some of the birds in the roost, you can see how still the water is:

This film shows some of the Knot, Oystercatchers and Black-tailed Godwits in the roost:

Though most of them were asleep:

Some took the opportunity to get cleaned-up:

or just have a scratch:

Whilst it's fair to say we'd expected to see more birds the sight, sound and over spectacle was fantastic and we were very pleased with the planning that we'd done to ensure we were in the right place at the right time. By now it was around 7:30am and just after high tide. We decided to head on to Titchwell as some of the birders were getting a bit twitchy at the 'lack of action' and others had already drifted off.

On the way back along the beach there were a few lone waders about, including this Dunlin, moulting into winter plumage:

A couple of juvenile Ringed Plovers:

As we were about to leave the beach on the way back to the car park I spotted a bird whose immediate shape and pattern were unfamiliar to me. We got bins on it and it turned out to be our very first Wryneck:

We watched it watch us for a while then it obligingly flew to a better perch for us:

We'd been very keen to see a Wryneck on our Spanish holiday earlier this year and had assumed we wouldn't see one for a few years yet so were chuffed to bits! Surprisingly no one else was about, so we enjoyed the bird on our own until it dived into deep cover, disturbing a couple of Robins as it did so. We told some other birders who wandered past while we were trying to locate it again but no joy so headed off to Titchwell.

Titchwell is undergoing some well-publicised changes including a new sea wall which is sorely needed. The changes however mean that the reserve is very quiet for birding at the moment, though we were delighted to watch a small group of Bearded Reedlings pinging their way around the reedbeds near the path, even with the still poor light, this male showed well:

At the end we watched a number of waders and gulls, including this lone Grey Plover, still in breeding plumage:
We also caught fleeting glimpses of Snow Buntings, too fleeting however to record on camera. As usual the RSPB volunteers were a mine of information, they really do the RSPB proud.
We popped into Stiffkey to see a reported Red-breasted Flycatcher but the bird hadn't been seen on Saturday and we couldn't locate it either. Next up for us then the NWT reserve at Cley.

Again the ponds and wetland areas were quiet but again the Bearded Reedlings were putting on a show, this time with some sunlight to aid the photography. First another male for comparison with the unlit subject above:

Followed by a juvenile female:

Then an adult female:

These are fabulous little birds and the more habitat the RSPB puts in the more they breed and prosper. Next up we decided to gamble and visit Pensthorpe the location for Springwatch. Mistake. It cost £17 for us to get in which ended up costing us a £1 a minute. The place is very confused. There's a few captive birds, a crane conservation project and some hides, a strange little manicured garden, etc., but the 'habitat' is not really bird friendly. In fact it seemed like the place can't make its mind up what to be and as a consequence is neither garden of a posh house, National Trust style nor nature reserve. They should let the WWT or RSPB take over then the place would be a worth a visit. Unless you fancy a really expensive stroll to see the odd duck and flower garden then I'd give the place a wide berth.
We did get to see this Mistle Thrush on the perimeter of the park, so it wasn't all a waste:

So having made one mistake we decided to head for Sculthorpe Manor (we used the Best Birdwatching sites in Norfolk by Neil Glenn), which turned out to be a wise decision. As we walked in the door the volunteer asked us if we'd been before, and then proceeded to explain the various highlights of the reserve, what we'd see and where, and told us about the various birds we asked about including Golden Pheasant and Lesser-Spotted Woodpecker. Apparently the former is seen daily and the latter regularly including being seen on a feeder from time to time. No such luck for us but it was still a lovely spot, very pleasant to be at and to walk around. At the far end we sat with some other folk watching a fishing Kingfisher for 10 minutes. It was quite distant but great to watch. So time to head back for an early dinner and an early night after a really good day. Wryneck !! :)
Please excuse the bloggers license exercised here, this is an unpublished picture I took in Sri Lanka of a Common Kingfisher at the turn of the year, I spotted it whilst browsing for some other pictures last week and thought it worthy of airing, I hope you agree:

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Another walk around Pitsford

We had to cancel a planned visit to the Ludlow Food Fair this weekend as I still have a lot of work to do on my dissertation, though I should finish it this weekend, finally!

By way of compensating ourselves we decided on an early morning walk on Saturday morning. You can see how early by the morning mist (another in that occasional series of pictures out the back window):

We decided to walk anti-clockwise around the reserve this time, both to get us to where the Ferruginous Duck had been located the previous week sooner and for a change. You can always tell when you're the first humans around as there's so much wildlife and in passing so much disturbed. Heading along the causeway we watched a Common Moorhen being assaulted by first one and then another Moorhen, being watched by Common Coots, who themselves fought on and off too:

The original target was pursued on to shore, I don't reckon its chances were good as the birds looked determined. Whilst we watched this a Common Kingfisher blurred past to settle on a dead branch sticking out of the water a good forty metres away:

We saw three Kingfishers in our first fifteen minutes! Today's first was actually locating the lagoon hide. We'd never understood why we always missed it but walking round in the opposite direction meant we located it readily and enjoyed watching this juvenile Grey Heron looking for food:

The duck was indeed still present and still asleep though it had moved a bit so presumably it had woken up at least once in the last week :)

As noted above there were lots of birds at Pitford today, the commonest in the trees appeared to be Chiffchaffs:

Willow Warblers:

And mixed flocks of tits, including of course, Long-tailed Tits:

LTT's were Helen's favourite bird, now however her allegiance has shifted to the Black Bittern (Garden Birds and other sightings...: India Holiday - Sunday 4 January – Colombo and trip summary). I just can't wait for the Smew to fly in to Pitsford this winter, they remain my favourites.

One unusual creature that caught our attention was this moth. No doubt it's the commonest moth in the UK but we'd not seen one like this before. In fact we only saw it because it flew away from the tree briefly. The underside of its wings appear to have red dots towards the edge which is what we saw in the first place, however once settled it was quite hard to pick out:

We were fortunate about 80% of the way round to get close to a Common Buzzard which was just heading up again, allowing me to get a reasonable snap of its plumage as it soared higher:

Pitsford is a wonderful spot. One of the neighbouring farms however has just released many thousands of Partridge for the autumn shooting. They've been released less than a week so are all clustered around the feeders oblivious that soon various groups of midlife-crisis humans will spend a few mornings slaughtering them for fun. Probably worth avoiding the place for a couple of weeks therefore...

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

a line crossed?

Sunday morning started grey, with rain predicted in the afternoon. I didn't care as I still had 4,000 words to do on my dissertation. Around noon with less than 1,000 to go I checked my email, there was a report of a very unusual duck at Pitsford spotted by Neil McMahon early on Sunday morning. I had to finish my dissertation first then have lunch, but we decided to pop-along in the afternoon and see if the bird was still present. It was! The Ferruginous Duck was sleeping and for the fifteen to twenty minutes we watched it, it carried on sleeping, so at this distance all I managed was a record shot, though you can tell it is a drake Ferruginous Duck due to the plumage colour and on the head, back in contrast to the head and the (white) rump:

As we were out and about with all our kit, we decided to head for home via Hollowell as another unusual wader had been spotted there yesterday, a pair of Curlew Sandpipers, thus far a bird we've only seen from a distance in Spain earlier this year. We were delighted to find them still present, in this picture the bird on the right is a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper and the bird on the left a juvenile Ringed Plover:

A better shot of the Curlew Sandpiper:

And finally the pair together:

Also present a lone Greenshank as per yesterday and probably one of the pair we saw here two weekends back. So, two new birds on the UK list this weekend and one 'lifer' and all on a pleasant (no rain either) Sunday afternoon! It does mean however that we have gone out specifically to see a new bird in our locale twice now, once a couple of weeks ago to positively identify the Pectoral Sandpiper and now today for the Ferruginous Duck. That counts as twitching by my book, hence the line crossed, though a long, long distance from the true meaning of the term, at least that's what I'm telling myself anyway :)

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

Stanwick Lakes

Well a second weekend of shooting (all day) on the farm behind the house flushed us out, unfortunately the first place we went to this morning, Summer Leys Nature Reserve was also 'enjoying' accompanying shooting from both duck shooters on the river and rabbit shooters using dogs on neighbouring fields. We moved on from there and finally found a spot where nothing was being killed by humans, Stanwick Lakes. Stanwick has been developed in the last couple of years to be both human and wildlife friendly and has a brand new visitor centre to boot. There were plenty of birds buzzing around including loads of House Martins and Sand Martins, loads more geese and ducks of various species, Common Terns, Green and Great-spotted Woodpeckers, Lapwings, singing Chiffchaff and Cetti's Warblers (a surprisingly high count of these). On the sympathetically structured lake in front of the visitor centre a flock of Lesser Black-backed Gulls were settled on the shallow surface, just below the waterline:

They'd obviously already had a busy morning, or a noisy night, judging by the yawn:

Another bird that is surprisingly common is the Goldfinch. The flocks are of a good size (30-40 birds) and evenly dispersed around the area. Here a couple of juvenile birds are perched:

One of the few adults in this group was as interested in me as I in it:

Before heading on to Hollowell (much quieter this time just two Ringed Plover and a Greenshank) we stopped in a big hide, unfortunately vandalised such that all the shutters have now been removed, and settled down to watch a Great-crested Grebe being hassled and nagged by a youngster:

Before having a good old preen (and resolutely ignoring the juvenile):

Just as I packed the camera away a Blue Tit perched no more than four feet in front of me to feed on a bull rush. Oh well! Least we got to enjoy some peace and quiet for the morning.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

unusual garden sightings

We regularly get three individual foxes patrolling through the garden during the night, taking away any cat kills or careless birds that have fallen out of nests, for example. Unusually however one was sat under the seed feeder this morning, just after dawn, hence the poor light, licking up the dropped seeds, he stayed there for a good ten minutes or so before the increasing number of dog walkers out the back set him off for home:

Another unusual wildlife encounter and another regular visitor, is this tail-less Magpie:

It's one of this years' youngsters. When it first fledged the other Magpies used to chase it around pecking at its' backside, grabbing and pulling the tail feathers, suggesting there was a problem such as an infection or break. The bird was also incontinent and used to feed and defecate at the same time. The bird looks much stronger now but still doesn't associate readily with other Magpies so I guess somewhat of an outcast.

The last picture is one in an occasional series of unfiltered pictures taken out back over the fields, this time with dark clouds and sunlight creating a monochromatic feel in the picture:

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