Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Sep 28th Strumpshaw Fen

I arrived early this morning at Strumpshaw to sit at the same bench as last week for a second attempt at weasel watching. I sat there waiting for an hour watching 'Weasel Lane' (as I've decided to call it from now on), but it was the same story as last week. This weasel hotspot has not produced anything yet. Fortunately, Weasel Lane is not the only hotspot to see weasels here. They have been seen anywhere between Reception Hide and Weasel Lane. So maybe I should try somewhere else next week. There is also no sign of the two fungi species that I need to complete my Strumpshaw 40 challenge.

Blue Tit

Red Admiral
Another Hoverfly
Common Darter

Bearded Tits
At Reception Hide, my morning got quite interesting. First, I saw a flock of bearded tits pop up from the reed bed close to my left, sitting on the reed heads for a quick nibble before flying to the reed bed close to my right and vanishing within it. I managed to get a few dodgy photos of them just in time before they moved on. Then a bittern emerged from behind the same reed bed to my left, flying across the broad until diving into another reed bed on the other side of the right hand channel. I had good views of it, but its emergence caught me by surprise and I was not quick enough to reach for my camera. Then my luck continued as I had brief views of 2 green woodpeckers and a hobby, not to mention marsh harriers, swallows and house martins.

Marsh Harrier
Mute Swan
Grey Heron
Little Egret
As my shift neared its end, I had reports of two special birds for me to write up on the sightings board. First up was the return of the glossy ibis at Tower Hide. It had been absent at Strumpshaw for about two weeks with one brief flyby sighting over the weekend. Now it seems to be back feeding in front of the Tower Hide once more as if it had never left. The other special bird reported was more interesting to me. A yellow-browed warbler had been seen in the woods near the office area with a mixed flock of long-tailed tits and other woodland birds and I have never seen one before. So I decided to go look for it with one of my regular visitors.

Long-tailed Tit
A yellow-browed warbler is a tiny bird about the size of a goldcrest (which is Britain's smallest bird) and is olive green in colour with a striking yellow stripe above the eye. This is a bird that breeds as far as Siberia and in recent years, sightings of these birds in the UK have been increasing each autumn to a point that it has led us to believe that this species migrate west instead of south for winter. They often join flocks smaller birds such as the long-tailed tit. For me to find this warbler, I needed to find the flock of long-tailed tits first, which turned out to be surprisingly easy due to their consistent calls they were making. The pair of us now had to locate the warbler amongst the large fast moving flock in the dense canopy of leaves. There were so many birds moving around us that it was hard not to be mesmerised by them all. To add to the confusion, there were other species in this mega flock from blue tits, great tits, coal tits, marsh tits, goldcrests and treecreepers. In the end, we couldn't find the warbler, but I expect it was there with them somewhere. But seeing all those birds together in one spot was still quite an amazing experience.

I gave up with my search for the yellow-browed warbler as I had to make my way to Brundall to catch my train home. So I returned to Reception Hide to collect my bag, but as I was about to enter the door to the hide, there was one last surprise outside the hide for me to see. It was a kingfisher! It was a great way to end a great day at Strumpshaw, even if I did not see a weasel or a yellow-browed warbler.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Sep 26th Holkham Hall and Titchwell

Fallow Deer at Holkham Hall
The end of September is usually the start of the deer rutting season. From now until the end of October is the time to see the male red and fallow deer at Holkham Hall fight it out to mate with the females. So today, Mum and I have arrived to see if the rut has started yet. And the answer is, disappointingly, not yet, but it does seem to be very close now. The fallow deer have formed large herds that engulf the green fields that form almost half of the estate with their sheer numbers. It was like looking at a sea of brown, spotty animals with the odd pair of antlers of the males poking out here and there. They were fairly approachable, though it was they who approached us. They were more interested in grazing however, than to interact with us, keeping some distance between us and them.

Fallow Deer Buck

Young Red Deer Stag
We walked round the other side of the hall where the red deer normally occur, but there were no sign of them at their usual corner of the estate except for one lone young male and a fallow deer buck. No matter how much we scanned, there was no sign of the red deer herd. But then, we turned round to scan behind us, I spot a red deer stag standing by a tree on top of some raised ground staring right at us from a couple of yards away. Using the trees as cover, I crept over to this young stag until I was only a few feet away from it, allowing it plenty of space to move freely without spooking it. It casually moved away from the tree I was hiding behind and went down the slope and walked up to Mum, who was waiting for me on the path below. She was a bit nervous having this large animal with pointy antlers approaching her, but it was no real threat and it just carried on with its grazing. Meanwhile, I had found an even bigger and more mature stag with an even more impressive set of antlers. There was no sign of any testosterone-fuelled rutting action though, only peaceful grazing.

The more mature stag
Holkham Hall
The distant young male Red Deer that I saw
Fallow Deer Buck
Fallow Deer
Before returning to the car for lunch, we made a quick walk beside the lake to sit on a log to watch the fallow deer that surrounded us. They were very close to us, but they were more interested in grazing than us. Apart from the odd quick tussle between the males, it was pretty peaceful within the herd. There were no full blown battles or a lot of grunting yet, but I think its only a matter of time until the estate becomes a battlefield in a competition to mate. We shall come back again in a few weeks time and have another go in seeing the rut in action.

A quick tussle between two bucks
Great Crested Grebe
Pied Wagtail

Pectoral Sandpiper
After lunch, we decided to drive to Titchwell for a short walk and to see if anything unusual had turned up. We found out that there was. There was a pectoral sandpiper at the Parrinder South Hide. We made our way down towards the hide, but at half way along the first pool, I spot two things. First, a small slightly orange backed wader moving along behind a cover of reed that borders the path and the pool. Secondly, a reasonably large group of twitchers with cameras and scopes trained onto the bird. This was the bird we were after. It had moved away from the hide and gave us a shorter walk than expected. This tiny wader from the Americas has made its way across the Atlantic Ocean and it still had enough energy to move around the edge of this pool in a flighty manner. It looks similar to a ruff but is much smaller, with a streaky breast and a white underside that creates a noticeable border just below the pectoral region of the bird, hence the name.

The pectoral sandpiper was pretty good to see, but there were also dunlin, curlew sandpipers, curlews, golden plovers, ruff, lapwings, godwits and teal that were equally good to look at too. To top it off, I saw my first skein of pink-footed geese of the autumn fly over me. With their arrival, surely autumn is officially here now.
Pink-footed Geese
Pink-barred Sallow