Sunday, January 24, 2010

A weekend in Suffolk - Sunday

The 'Birds by Barge' boat trip itself (organised and hosted by the RSPB) was on the Sunday. Thankfully the low cloud had lifted a bit and it didn't rain at all!
Unusually for us, we were the last to arrive, even though we arrived at the time requested (to the minute!).

Underway it was clear that the estuary was home to a huge number of birds. Helpfully a number of RSPB staff were hosting the trip and they were both, as you'd expect, expert in what was around but also very friendly, helpful and accommodating. From the get-go there was a non-stop supply of tea and coffee (very good coffee too). We saw hundreds of Knot, thousands of Dunlin, tens of Grey Plover, Golden Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Oystercatchers, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlews, Redshanks and Avocets. Also Common Gull, Black-headed Gull, Lesser-black Backed Gull, Greater Black-backed Gull and Herring Gulls. Ducks included Mallard, Gadwall, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Teal, Shoveller, Pintail, Shelduck, Common Scoter and Scaup. The first of the more unusual species was the Great Northern Diver, first spotted by Helen, seen here with a crab it had caught:

Followed by a couple described by the RSPB's Warden of the Estuary:

We saw at least five Great Northern Divers. Also present were really good numbers of Red-breasted Merganser, over sixty I think, here's one taking-off:

Before getting airborne:

We saw five species of Grebe, Little Grebe, Great-crested Grebe, Red-necked Grebe (second tick of the weekend!), Slavonian or Horned Grebe and here a pair of Black-necked Grebe:

We also saw Little Egrets, Cormorants, Carrion Crows, Rooks and a Common Buzzard. I've no doubt missed some, having not thought to make a list...

The sun did put in few a brief appearances, creating some interesting lighting effects:

and here:

Lunch was served consisting of two choices of hot soup (both delicious) and more tea and coffee. Then we motored back to the dock, though this took a little more than an hour, into a headwind that was icy cold. Even the hardiest of those on board (mostly the RPSB staff hosts and RSPB staff visitors) were feeling the intense cold by the time we landed. We really enjoyed the trip and would recommend it to anyone from beginners through to experts. For birders with limited experience like ourselves we found the identification, descriptions and field expertise of our hosts to be very helpful and we learned a lot about bird identification and behaviours, etc.

We also decided we must do more research on such trips as, if this is a good example, we plan on doing many, many more, a big thank you to the RSPB and their excellent staff!

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A weekend in Suffolk

Some time back in 2009, Helen had spotted on the RSPB website a 'Birding on a Barge' trip in Suffolk and booked us in for this weekend. We decided to head to the area on Friday, after work, and then to visit Minsmere first thing on Saturday. The weather forecast was for dry and grey. Well the grey bit was right, the dry wasn't to start with, rather a persistent drizzle.

On arrival as we parked-up a Red Deer was feeding from a tree taller than was comfortable:

It had to rear-up to reach:

Though it didn't prove too tricky:

It's amazing that animals soon learn when they're not threatened, this deer can have been no more than twenty metres away from us.

We stopped first in the Bittern Hide. You can see the raft (right hand side of the water) where the RSPB had been emergency feeding the birds during the big freeze. It was still murky and misty and very very wet:

A pair of Bearded Reedlings appeared briefly on the edge before crossing the water and going into cover. We then walked out towards the Island Hide, from where we saw a Merlin, our very first Hen Harriers, both female and male, Sparrowhawks again female and male. We missed the reported Smew however by about fifteen minutes.

This Mute Swan was one of a group that flew into land relatively close to the hide:

Along the path back towards the visitor centre we watched a flock of around ten Bullfinch drinking from a pool, then saw the male Hen Harrier fly over and dive fast behind some trees. I did manage a silhouette record shot but not much else.

Further along and back in the woods a lot of birds were singing, but the drumming woodpeckers really caught our attention. I located a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming, accompanied by Great Tit singing and Jackdaws calling in the background:

We walked around the reserve, visiting all the hides. There were good numbers of ducks, a handful of waders and gulls and a group of four motionless horses. They stood stock still for ages, not changing position as we viewed then from three separate hides:

The last bird before lunch was this, what I believe to be Marsh Tit (based on the context):

They only had one vegetable chilli portion left so Helen opted for cheese and beans with her spud, before we headed off visiting a few other sites in the area. We enjoyed Walberswick and a brief walk along the dunes there, followed by a visit to a fast disappearing spot, Benacre Broad. The right of way, being a path along a cliff edge (albeit not a high one) was mostly fallen to the beach. What remains doesn't look like it'll last long either:

It was worth the walk for the views:

and here:

but one wonders just how long this will be accessible for, as soon the only access will be via the farmer's land and you can tell very quickly this farmer is not a friendly one. He was, like a number of others in the area, hosting a 'no bird left alive' day on his farm, no doubt making up for lost time during the freeze and it being just over a week to the end of 'the season'. In fact that was the only down side to the day... we retired to the Premier Inn for dinner.

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The Big Freeze - part two

I took a few more pictures the following day, of the Fieldfare, including this one:

You can see the bird was jealously guarding another apple slice. As sunset approached the sky lit up and an unusual 'pillar' of light was visible:

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Big Freeze

It's so cold out there and so persistent, I'm worried as to how many of our feathered friends will be around come Spring.

On the plus side, in their increasing search for food, we did have a new species in the garden today, a Fieldfare, eating some fresh apple and pear we put out for the birds:

We've not been hit as hard as some other places in the UK, I have one colleague who has half a metre of standing snow where he lives, relatives who had a foot of snow in a single night, etc. The view out the back was stunning as the sun headed towards setting:

To help the birds cope we've redoubled our feeding efforts and invested in more seed and nuts to help see them through. We've had weather casualties though with a few frozen birds being picked-up first thing in the morning. Fingers crossed for a thaw soon...

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Sunday, January 03, 2010

Happy New Year

Unusually, or at least as far as I remember it is, we're in the middle of an extended cold snap here in the UK. It's been very wintry for a couple of weeks now, with no sign of a prolonged thaw. It must be very hard on those species not used to it.

We had arranged quite a hectic schedule of visits around the New Year period, including birding at Rutland Water on Saturday the 2nd with some friends. On arrival though it was snowing with heavy dark clouds and, not wanting to get stuck, we decided on a postponement and to retire to theirs for Wii Golf, snackage and wine, which all went down very well.

Sunday 3rd dawned snow shrouded, crisp, clear and very cold. I drove very slowly back to Rutland Water where the lagoons, as you can see here, were mostly frozen:

As is usual in this kind of weather a lot of wildfowl were moving around, in this case a small flock of Greylag geese:

We knew there were Eurasian Bitterns on site (we saw three in different locations from the same spot), and enjoyed distant views from the Shoveler hide, however we saw one fly to the arm between Lagoon's II & III and decided to see if we could spot it from a closer hide. Sure enough, whilst sat in Crake Hide, a Eurasian Bittern flew in to the far bank:

Whilst still distant this is the best views of a Eurasian Bittern (of any species) we've enjoyed in Europe. Here's a closer look:

We'd also heard that both Long-eared Owls and Short-eared Owls had been located, however on arrival, speaking with someone just leaving, a group of keen photographers had managed to flush most of them away completely, with just a single Long-eared Owl in deep cover and very hard to locate, so we dipped out there. Shame. On the way back to the car in the middle of the afternoon, we got a very good view of a male Bullfinch, fluffed-up against the cold:

The temperature was plummeting to time to head for home and a nice hot cup of tea. One last picture, towards sunset today the sun was obscured by clouds with yellow sky below and blue above, but I was driving and couldn't really stop. However the view out the back on New Year's Eve 2009/2010 was pretty dramatic too:

By the way I must compliment Google on the improvement, unannounced, in the blogging software - it now does a really good job of handling photos, which is a great improvement, thank you. Happy New Year!

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