Saturday, 20 February 2016

Feb 20th Holkham Hall and RSPB Titchwell

Fallow Deer at Holkham Hall
This morning, my mum and I made a visit to Holkham Hall. The only thing is, the park is closed to vehicles during the winter months, meaning we could only enter on foot. This meant a slightly longer walk down to the lake than usual, but it was worth it despite a freezing cold, strong wind and spots of rain. With fewer disturbance from vehicles and the public, the park's fallow deer were grazing in peace on the open field of the estate in a huge herd. But I wasn't here for the deer, I was here for the lake as a ferruginous duck and a couple of scaup have been reported here for over a week now.

Ferruginous Duck (at back) with two pochards and a female Tufted Duck
Finding these ducks turned out to be easy. Just look for a small crowd of twitchers with scopes along the edge of the lake and scan the bank on the other side and there they were. Of course it wasn't all easy, as you still had to filter through the similar looking species like tufted ducks and pochard first to find them. The target species also made it difficult by snoozing with their heads tucked under their wings most of the time and were pretty distant to photograph too. Luckly, the twitchers were kind enough to point them out and gave us views through their scopes. The ferruginous duck is like a red female tufted duck but with a few white patches to the rear and belly. This species is from eastern Europe and is a scarce visitor to the UK with a handful of these birds arriving here each year.

Ferruginous Duck (on far right) with two male pochards and a male Scaup
Scaups, on the other hand, are regular winter visitors, though I have only seen them on a few occasions. The male is like a male pochard but with a black-green head and yellow eyes. They also look similar to tufted ducks, especially the females. A female scaup is brown with a white patch at the base of the bill. It causes confusion when you see some female tufted ducks with similar patches. The females with the white patches in these photos are all tufted ducks, they tend to have smaller patches. Annoyingly, this male scaup was fast asleep floating on the water and did not wake up to show his head fully for me.

Pochard (left) and Scaup
Female Tufted Duck with white patches
Tufted Ducks (males and female)
Egyptian Geese with three young chicks
Little Grebe
Returning to the car, we decided to drive to Titchwell for lunch. After lunch, we went for a walk on the reserve. We were making our way behind the feeder area near the visitor centre, when I heard wheezing twittering again. It was a flock of siskins that were within the branches of the alder trees close to the path we were on. As we watched the siskins, something white was moving on the ground below them. At first, Mum thought it was a tissue blowing in the wind, but when I saw it I knew what it was straight away. It was a white stoat! An ermine! During the winter, some stoats turn white to blend in with snow as camouflage and they are commonly known as ermines. Ermines are rare in Norfolk, they are more common in Scotland. Further south, stoats develop patchy white and brown coats, but to get a fully white ermine this far south is unusual. Because it was so white, it stood out like a sore thumb, but I failed to get a picture as it was constantly moving and there was a lot of branches distorting the camera's view. So I have no choice but to draw it for you instead. It was still quite an amazing encounter!

Out on the reserve, it was very windy and started to rain a lot more than a few spots. It was also relatively quiet despite there being a lot out on the pools. We saw avocets, redshanks, dunlins, lapwings, godwits, shelducks, grey plovers, teal, brent geese, greylags and lots of gulls. We made a visit to three hides before making our way back, hoping to see the ermine again, but it didn't. It is probably the biggest highlight of my year so far, one I shall not forget anytime soon. Let's hope the rest of the year has more in store for me.

Female Teal
Male Teal
Reed Bunting
Gulls and more
Black-tailed Godwit
Grey Plover
Brent Geese

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