Saturday, April 10, 2010

Easter 2010 - Saturday 10 April

Saturday, the last day of our Spring holiday and one with a pre-set destiny in that we'd already booked a half-day trip to the RSPB's Havergate Island to watch the hares and also to see what else was about. On arrival we were split into two groups, we were in the group that was headed to where the hares habituate, stopping first in a hide overlooking one of the scrapes.

My first sighting was a hare, sunning itself on the bank:



One lady in our group (of twelve including the warden) spotted a pair of summer plumage European Golden Plover, we'd never seen these birds in summer plumage so that was a treat:



From the hide we headed towards the warden accommodation and the hares. We were soon stopped on the path as a group of hares meandered around. I snuck slowly along the edge of the path, focusing on one individual:



He practised some boxing moves:



Had a scratch:


Then seemed to notice our group:

It then ran along the path directly towards us, stopped, then headed into the gorse. Amazing!
The other main inhabitant of the island is gulls. Lots and lots of gulls. Herring Gulls like these:
Lesser Black-backed Gulls:


and a few Common and Black-headed Gulls too. The RSPB is keeping the water levels high until more Terns arrive so the gulls don't take over all the breeding space.
On the path back, having split off from the group, we found our second female Black Redstart of the holiday:



Some Meadow Pipits:



and distant Avocet, Spoonbill, Black-tailed Godwit and Barnacle Geese. We wandered again to see the Black Redstart before the boat returned to collect us:



We thoroughly enjoyed our holiday, though it got off to a very quiet start. In the end we added just one new species to our list, Golden Pheasant, though the Twite was also probably a first. I doubt we'll do another week like this, probably preferring a more flexible response to weather conditions and bird locations, over long weekends. We also missed the peach tree blossoming in our garden but made it back in time for the Blackthorn :)

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Easter 2010 - Friday April 9th

Friday, the penultimate day of our holiday and we decided to head into Essex for our first ever birding in the county, and specifically to Fingringhoe, an Essex Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve.

We'd found another really very nice spot and arrived early, luckily enough on an early opening day, otherwise we'd have been parked by the gate for a while.

The volunteer guide talked us through the reserve and the various birds around so we set-off to explore what is quite a small reserve but one including a lot of varied high-quality habitat. On our first walk around we heard lots of summer migrants all singing in the warming Spring morning, including Garden Warbler:



Chiffchaff, this one was gathering nesting material:



Blackcap:



and the object of the male Blackcap's affection, a female was paying close attention:



The star of the show in singing terms though is always the Nightingale, this one was singing from cover:

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I had to split the recording to get it to load, it's worth playing both parts:

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Wonderful! We encountered three singing Nightingales and it was still the first week of April!

After high tide we explored the hides overlooking the estuary. We saw loads of birds, an impressive list including Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plover, Knot, Dunlin and our first sightings of Little Stint in the UK. We knew they were Little Stints as, whilst watching the Dunlin a pair of birds half their size busily waded past, making the Dunlin look heavy and slow.



Fingringhoe was another great find for us and another place we want to visit again. I imagine it will be good all year round in fact with the various movements of birds through the seasons something to watch. It would make a great local patch too, though it's a bit far for us :)

From Fingringhoe we headed to the RSPB reserve overlooking the Stour Estuary, again trying for the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. The woodland was beautiful however unfortunately it was also over-run with family groups so was unbelievably noisy, we didn't hang around:



The clouds were rolling back in and the temperature was dropping away so time to head back to the hotel and to pack.

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Easter 2010 - Thursday April 8th

Minsmere when it first opens and is still reasonably quiet is my favourite place for bird watching. Admittedly these aren't birds but watching the deer grazing in early morning light when all you can hear is birdsong (there is a big buffer of land around Minsmere which makes it rare that the sound of gunfire from the ongoing 'War on Nature' carries into the reserve):

A Cetti's Warbler sang (it's distant so you'll need the speakers up a bit):
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The Bitterns were booming too but alas my camera wasn't sensitive enough to pick that up, still a fantastic sound and indeed experience.
We moved from the Bittern Hide to the Island Mere hide. A Little Grebe was feeding out front:
A pair of Tufted Ducks mooched around. Note how the drakes' head plumage is actually purple, not black:
If you look really closely at this picture you can just make out the Bittern that teased everyone in the hide by staying just behind the screen of reeds:

We headed back toward the visitor centre, encountering our first Sedge Warbler of the year:

and then headed around the loop of hides overlooking the scrape. From the East Hide, a Mediterranean Gull adopted a slightly raised perch before displaying:



Black-headed Gulls are sometimes unpopular due to their abundance. They were certainly present in large numbers and being very noisy, however their pair-bonding displays are good to watch:



I'm actually quite pleased with that picture, I believe it merits a closer look (click on it to do so).
From Minsmere we headed up to Dunwich Heath to spot Dartford Wablers, which we did:

and then for a walk around the extended National Trust lands, including the recently purchased Mount Pleasant Farm. We were delighted on this walk to encounter a female Black Redstart:


The weather had been good all day and with some great birding and good exercise under our belts we retired for the evening.

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Easter 2010 - Wednesday April 7th

I got well over-excited on Wednesday morning. We had headed out on a pre-breakfast walk and I spotted a brown backed Oystercatcher, which reminded me of the American Oystercatcher. A quick look at the guidebook though and confirmation it did indeed have a 'white collar' showed it to be a normal Oystercatcher, maturing into it's first summer... oh well, would have been good :)

So that excitement over and after a hearty veggie fry-up at the Burleigh, we headed in land to the Ted Ellis Nature Reserve. This is a well kept secret and well worth a visit. The reserve itself is a former shooting estate that was converted to a nature reserve by the daughter and son-in-law of the shooter (I love ironies like this) and turned into a 'no shooting ever' nature reserve, excellent!

The warden was very friendly and chatted with us about the reserve, its history, current status, etc. and then suggested a route to us (we were after Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which remains our 'bogie bird').

The reserve was bursting with song the whole time we were there, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps, Robins, Song Thrushes, Mistle Thrushes, Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Willow Warblers (the first of the year):



One less welcome sighting was this mink:



The mink that were released by animal rights activists who, in trying to do the right thing by freeing them from captivity and a gruesome death - heads stuffed in jam jars to suffocate - ended up releasing a ferocious predator into an unprepared environment. A case of a wrong and an attempted right making a wrong. This mink will have to be trapped or the consequences for wildlife on the reserve will be significant.

We did also spot Water Vole, Field Vole, Roe Deer and Chinese Water Deer on the reserve and again this is somewhere we wholeheartedly recommend to any birder for a visit.

Next up, Minsmere, my personal favourite birding location in the UK. Even Minsmere seemed a bit quiet in the grey afternoon. The previous week had seen a Lesser Kestrel, alas nothing so exciting awaited our visit. We did enjoy watching the Marsh Harriers:



At least two pairs were visible at any one time. A lone Spotted Redshank was one of the few birds that wasn't a Black-headed Gull on the scrape:



As were the Barnacle Geese present:



On the beach a lone male Northern Wheatear:



Last but not least a pair of Sandwich Terns settled briefly on one island amongst the vociferous and widespread flock of Black-headed Gulls:



By now we were staying at the Premier Inn South-East of Ipswich, a 40 minute drive in rush hour, only 30 minutes when it's quieter, so headed off there for dinner.

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Easter 2010 - Tuesday April 6th

Tuesday promised to be the best day weather-wise of the trip thus far. The forecast was for clear skies and sunshine so we decided to do a decent length walk, and picked the walk out to Blakeney Point, from the car park next to Cley NWT, there and back.

The point itself was again very quiet (there's a theme here isn't there - we timed our holiday to after all the wintering birds have departed and at the very start of Spring migration, on reflection an optimal visit would probably be timed for a month either earlier or later), though we did see a few Sandwich and Common Terns flying by on their way to the Tern colony on Blakeney Point.

Someone had parked a boat on the dry bit and then forgotten about it:



Just like two years ago, the seals seem to enjoy watching us as much as we enjoy watching them:



A lone Sanderling added to the holiday list:



We thoroughly enjoyed the walk though had hoped to see more birds, two years back there had been much more around to enjoy.

From Cley we headed back to Hunstanton to have a mooch at the cliffs there, before dinner. The cliffs are home to a breeding colony of Northern Fulmars:



Hunstanton itself always has a good number of birds including waders and sea birds and is ideally located between Titchwell and Snettisham, you just have to not try and get into the place on the morning of a sunny day, or face huge traffic jams!

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Easter 2010 - Easter Monday

A quick word about the staff at the Kings Lynn Premier Inn. It turned out the evening dinner and following breakfast were the busiest services they had ever had. The staff remained polite and friendly throughout despite being rushed off their feet, and were volunteering extra shifts through their own Easter weekends to help out. We would recommend the hotel and restaurant wholeheartedly as both good value and really good people.

The forecast was again for rain and this time, having looked out of the window, we believed them. We decided therefore to head East into Norfolk and away from the rain. Though having got up pre-dawn to visit the docks we decided to do that anyway, via the 'Golden Triangle', that is a small patch of land outside of the main estate at Sandringham where a few introduced Pheasant species survive the annual slaughter, mostly by being outside of said estate (which is why they shoot rare birds like Hen Harriers as these may sometimes predate the other birds they like to shoot for fun).

Within ten minutes of arriving we were treated to a male Golden Pheasant, browsing the verge by the road for just a couple of minutes before heading back into cover. Was it the passing 4x4 and the recognition such vehicles typically convey the 'war on nature' crowd, that sent it scurrying for cover, or was that just coincidence?

Still a beautiful bird, if a little hard to photograph in post dawn light under leaden skies and heavy rain:



At the docks one of the shellfish processing companies let loose a waste flow, which brought a group of Herring Gulls to the outflow to pick out any morsels in the waste:



We headed to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve at Cley, though that too proved very, very quiet. A lone, feral, Greylag Goose had chased off all-comers outside one of the hides:



A male Marsh Harrier cruised over the reedbeds looking for its next meal:



From Cley we headed to next door Salthouse, but the Snow Buntings and Shore Larks had departed, however we really enjoyed watching this flock of Ruddy Turnstones:



When a group this size is working an area the resulting movement of rocks sounds just like rain. We watched them for a few minutes, a couple getting closer:



Then we headed on to Titchwell, working our way back along the coast to our next hotel, the Burleigh in Hunstanton which is a definite favourite of ours. Titchwell is subject to a substantial rebuilding programme as rising sea levels erode the sea defences, so the site is being prepared for a different structure to ensure its survival for the next few years at least. As such it won't be completed until late 2011 and, unsurprisingly, the disturbance and changing habitats mean the reserve is very quiet. It's still good for sea watching, we enjoyed the huge raft of Common Scoters offshore, but the reserve itself holds very few birds. This is in part a good thing (clutching at straws a bit here!) as the adjacent marshes are used by a deeply cynical group of locals for shooting ducks and geese, at least for the next few years they'll have fewer birds to kill for their amusement. Scumbags.
As we headed back to the car for the short drive to Hunstanton a very bold Robin watched us away:

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Easter 2010 - Easter Sunday

Back at Frieston shores then, again fewer birds than a couple of years back. The Avocet of yesterday had moved on too. A lone Black-tailed Godwit, moulting into summer/breeding plumage, was having a nap near the car park:



A flock of Dunlin flew in as the tide outside the reserve reached its peak:

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Before settling:

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We really do like Frieston Shores and will be regular visitors in the future. From there we decided to try our luck, it being grey, cold and windy (the theme of the week thus far though much better than the continual heavy rainfall forecast) and visit Frampton Marshes, another RSPB reserve.

To our surprise a visitors' centre had been built and was opened, and holds loos and sold tea! Perfect. I'm looking forward to taking delivery of the updated 'Where to Watch Birds in Britain' when it's published this summer, hopefully it will include much needed updates such as this.

From the first hide we visited, we enjoyed very close views of Little-ringed Plover:



Here browsing for food:

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We picked up from the other birders in the hide that a flock of Twite were about, later than expected, so set-off around the reserve to locate them too. At the farthest hide we enjoyed seeing migrant White Wagtails, currently listed as a sub-species of the Pied Wagtail, so we can't count it as a distinct species in our records:



Heading back to the 360 hide, we finally did encounter Twite, though surprisingly a lone bird:



Seeing this bird, and later the flock, makes me suspect that the sighting we recorded in 2008 was more than likely a Meadow Pipit, so having a firm sighting and a photo to back it up is good.

As an aside I have recently converted all my lists to latin to deduplicate the species that are present in different continents but with different local names (e.g. Kentish Plover in Europe, Snowy Plover in the USA) to make sure that the lists are completely accurate. I have also removed any sightings that don't have evidence to back them up or that on reflection may have been incorrect. This had the effect of reducing somewhat our UK list and quiet notably our life list, though at least both of these are now accurate based upon the current naming and classification conventions, until that is they change.

Back at the 360 hide a lone Dunlin was close enough to photograph, unlike the Common Ringed Plover that remained just too far away:



Helen took this view from one of the hides, as yes, some sunshine finally graced the holiday:



It's amazing how uplifting a really good reserve combined with a few decent sightings and a spot of pleasant weather can be :)

Our last stop of the day as we headed to our next hotel, the Premier Inn at Kings Lynn, was the Roydon LWT reserve. Unfortunately at this time of year it is mostly a bog, with the paths submerged. We managed to get mildly lost as a consequence and enjoyed navigating our way back out of the wood/bog before heading on to the hotel.

We did get to add one more bird to the holiday list though, a Marsh Tit, identified primarily by its song:



The next part of the holiday then is East Anglia proper, starting in Norfolk and concluding in Suffolk.

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