Thursday, 30 June 2022

Rainbow Birds

 June 6th Strumpshaw Fen

A really horrible day at Strumpshaw as it rained heavily for most of the morning and barely anyone showed up. However, I did see an otter with a cub, marsh harriers, herons, a great white egret and a kingfisher and I heard bearded tits and a grasshopper warbler. We also had a scientist entertain us by collecting a water sample from the broad.

June 10th Buxton Heath

My former Reception Hide colleague Tricia and I had a little catch up session by visiting Buxton Heath for nightjars. It was a perfect night for it. But before dusk started to set in, we had a little walk around the site. Yellowhammers and linnets were seen singing on the tops of trees and wires, while moths were already on the wing. We even had a silver-studded blue land by our feet, a tiny butterfly that has tiny silvery dots within some black spots on the underwing that look like studs which give the insect its name.

Nightjar (June 10th) Spoonbill,
Red-crested Pochard, Brown Hare &
Silver-Y (June 12th) & Swallowtail (June 15th)

We then waited for it to get dark enough for the nightjars to stir. After a while, we began to hear them. One even did a mid-flight wing clap. Tricia then had a glimpse of one in a small woodland, but I missed it. Thankfully, I saw one myself in the open with the moonlight making it bright enough to see it clearly for a brief second. There was possibly 2-4 of these eerie-sounding birds churring on the heath and seemed to surround us in different directions. A night with nightjars, especially on a night like we had, is always a magical experience and one I recommend very highly if you have never done it before.

June 12th Titchwell

When I arrived to Titchwell today with Dad, there were two things on my agenda. First a spotted sandpiper, which had been seen for the last few days and I wanted to see it. The other, was to buy a digi-scope attachment that allows me to take photos with my phone on my scope and holds it in place. Unfortunately, nothing went to plan. 

The sandpiper, which had been there just a day before our visit, decided that today of all days to leave and, as for my new toy, it was good to start with, but after awhile, it became nothing but a frustration as it was very fiddly to keep taking it off and putting it back on every time I wanted to use it. I just couldn't get the camera part of my phone to align with the lens of the scope. I was hoping in buying this thing it would help me photograph sea birds while sea watching, but in the end I had no choice but to get my money back. A real shame.

It felt like a wasted trip and I was very disappointed and angry with myself. However, I did somehow get 3 new species to my lists, making it 155 for my British bird list and my overall year list (which includes Spanish birds from my holiday to Spain last month) total to 200! These three species were: bar-tailed godwits, sandwich terns and a red-crested pochard. The pochard was probably the stand out highlight out of the three with a stunning male at the pool by Patsy's Reedbed. 

Other highlights of the day included 3 spoonbills by the shore at the the beach and another at the final pool on the way there, marsh harriers, avocets and their chicks, a hobby, linnets, oystercatchers, sedge warblers, a cuckoo and a bittern that landed in the small East Pond as we sat on a bench overlooking it. The bittern then launched out again as we made our way around the pond. We then had a quick visit to Choseley Barns, but other than a hare, swallows, yellowhammers, a red kite and a flock of goldfinches, there was nothing new to add to my list.

June 13th Strumpshaw Fen

It was a decent day. It was sunny for the most part, but also a bit cloudy and slightly breezy yet good enough to be a brilliant day for insects. There was a bit of a dragonfly fest with many scarce chasers, black-tailed skimmers, banded demoiselles, red-eyed damselflies, but no Norfolk hawkers. Swallowtails occasionally were showing up at the nectar garden, while meadow browns, large skippers, red admirals and many small tortoiseshells were also about.

My highlight though was finding many ichneumon wasps (Ephialtes manifestator) crawling all over the bee login the nectar garden. They were finding holes occupied with bee nests and un-sheathing their really long ovipositors into these holes to lay their eggs onto the bee larvae inside. It was just so amazing to watch.

Also seen; marsh harriers coming close to the Reception Hide, a hobby, swallows and house martins and a bittern (which at one point was mobbed by the hobby).

June 18th Trimingham

North Norfolk has hit the headlines recently as a colony of 7 bee-eaters were found in a quarry near Trimingham. This was big news as it is the first time this colourful species have attempted to nest in the county.

Ichneumon Wasp (Ephialtes manifestator) (June 13th), Bee-eater (June 18th)
Scarce Chaser, Silver-washed Fritillary
& Otter (June 20th) & Curlew Sandpiper (June 26th) 

My Aunt Barbara asked me if I wanted to go see them with her. This was a rare outing with my aunt and though it was a dull grey, drizzly day, it was far cooler than the heatwave from the day before. I also feared that the make-shift RSPB platform and car park would be ridiculously packed. Surprisingly, it wasn't. Though there was still a crowd, it wasn't exactly heaving with people.

As soon as we arrived and payed the £5 car park fee, we were instantly seeing them. They were spectacular, a splash of colour in the light rain. The crowd was glued to their every movement. There wasn't a moment a bee-eater wasn't in sight. They were sitting outside their nest holes in the sandy bank to my right or perching on the telegraph wires to my left. Occasionally they would bring back a bee to the wires and after a bit of juggling to get them into position, they then bashed the bee against it before swallowing. We were so captivated by them that an hour passed. It wasn't until the cold was getting to my aunt due to the cold wind that we decided to leave. 

June 20th Strumpshaw Fen

Though it wasn't as unbearable as Friday 17th's heatwave, it was still pretty hot. I started the morning with a walk around the meadow trail with southern marsh orchids beginning to form a display. But, the meadow still seemed empty of flowers overall.

I then made my way to Tower Hide, seeing two great white egrets on the way. From the hide itself, a lot of moulting ducks and a pair of nesting common terns on eggs arguing with their black-headed gull neighbours. 

An otter and a hobby were the highlights at Reception Hide. Most of our visitors were more interested in circling the nectar garden waiting for a swallowtail and couldn't tear themselves away to see the otter. It is funny, as I was seeing the swallowtails flying over the broad more than by where they were, where the otter was hanging out.

After my shift, I went back to the meadow trail where many dragonflies were on the wing, including Norfolk hawkers. The brambles by the pond near the trail entrance provided great views of a silver-washed fritillary as well as many meadow browns, large skippers and ringlets.

Barn owls had been reported flying back and forth to the nest box at the far side of the meadows in broad daylight recently. I was willing to wait for them until they appeared for the rest of the day. However, I waited and waited and it was just getting hotter and hotter. There was no shade, so I was quite exposed to the sun. I waited until 6:30pm, before the heat was just too much for me and I decided to abandon my stakeout without a single owl in sight. They remain to elude my bird list this year.

June 26th Cley

A visit to Cley with Mum and it was a chance to get a few more birds to reach to 160 British species before the month ends. Pat's Pool provided me with a curlew sandpiper feeding in the centre of the dried up pool amongst the many lapwings and several redshanks, avocets, godwits and little egrets, while marsh harriers and swallows fly above. I then did a spot of sea watching and I was certain that I saw a flock of 4-5 little gulls, but the heat haze was making it hard to focus on them in more detail. There were also sandwich terns, cormorants and a seal. In the end my total fell short of by two.

June 27th Strumpshaw Fen

My final shift of the month and I joined Strumpshaw regular, Liz Dack, to the Tower Hide. There was a lot of eclipse-phased ducks, little egrets, a heron, a pair of great crested grebes feeding their large chicks with fish and the common tern pair attending to their eggs. I then had a little walk around the meadow trail where orchids were poking through everywhere in the tall grass, but I noticed that there wasn't much else. The trail was incredibly lacking of other flowers and seemed rather empty, which is kind of worrying to me.

At Reception Hide, it was a slow start to the shift. As the day went on though, visitor numbers began to grow and the swallowtails were showing, but only flying over the broad and while everyone wasn't looking. Bitterns were occasionally popping out of the reedbeds, a kingfisher made a couple of fly overs, the marsh harriers flew close to the hide a few times and there were more ducks not looking their best. Nothing new for my list, which means, by the end of June, my British list is at 158 and my personal year list is at 202.

Saturday, 11 June 2022

My Spanish Pyrenees Adventure


Hola! From May 22nd to May 29th, I went on a week long trip to the Spanish Pyrenees as part of a group tour holiday package ran by Naturetrek. It was an adventure for me, full of ups and downs (quite literally in some cases). There were about 11 of us plus 2 guides, one of which owned the place we were staying and would also cook our meals with his wife. Here's all that happened and what we saw along the way... 

 Day 1

It was an early start as my parents drove me to Stanstead to catch my plane for Zaragoza. Once there, I met up with my group, got into one of our two mini buses and made our way to our base for the week, a small hotel in the picturesque town of Berdún. Along the way, I was adding new birds to my list starting with spotless starlings at the airport. Black and red kites were everywhere along the roadside, white storks were on their nests built on telegraph posts and, as fields became mountains, griffon vultures soared above.

At our base, we had a very late lunch. We were shown our rooms and I had a little amount of time to admire the garden and the view surrounding it. Nightingales were singing everywhere, including one by my bedroom window, but they were so well hidden in the undergrowth that I couldn't see them. Serins also jangled their songs from wires and branches, while house sparrows, swallows and house martins flew around us and on the buildings we were calling home for the week.

Once lunch was over and that we've settled in a bit, our guides took us to a beech forest area in Belagua. Here we found many orchids such as white helleborines, bird's-nest, lesser butterfly, green-winged and common spotted. There were also many interesting plants here too like green hellebore, purple toothwort and dragon's teeth and also butterflies including wood whites, speckled woods (which are orange here), and clouded yellows. I also encountered a large dor beetle.

On our way back, our guides suddenly grinded to a halt. There, sitting in the middle of a small field by the roadside was... A WILDCAT!!! It was a completely unexpected, out-of-the-blue highlight of all highlights of our holiday. It was only day one! It just sat there for a while, looking at us unfazed for several minutes. It then moved closer to us before eventually walking away into the nearest wooded area and vanishing from sight. Absolutely WOW!!!! 

There were a couple of other botanical highlights before we ended day one. First some greater butterwort (which traps and absorbs insects for their nutrients within the hairs along their leaves and stem) and then a spectacular lizard orchid in full flower while a thunderstorm suddenly rumbled in. The storm continued when we returned for the evening. This wasn't enough to prevent the nightingales from singing however. The one by my bedroom continued to belt out its loud, but beautiful song. These birds are known to sing throughout the night, which made me think if I was going to get any sleep at all.

Serin, Bee-eater, Griffon Vulture, Subalpine Warbler,
Woodchat Shrike, Lammergeier, Golden Oriole, Black Kite,
Crested Lark, Firecrest, Nightingale, Blue Rock Thrush,
Sardinian Warbler, Egyptian Vulture, Northern Wheatear, Hoopoe,
 Melodious Warbler, Citril Finch, Rock Sparrow, Corn Bunting
Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Water Pipit, Rock Bunting & Black Redstart

Day 2

I did get some sleep, but the nightingale did wake me up like some natural alarm clock. I tried to find one but was unsuccessful. I did have great views of serin and a pair of black redstart that was feeding their chicks in their nest built on top of a light fitting on the outside wall of one of our apartments.

Once breakfast was eaten, we spent the morning walking around Berdún and down a slope to the nearest river, the Rio Veral. There were plenty of wildlife very close to our base's doorstep. This included 11 new bird species to my list. Booted eagles, short-toed eagles, a bee-eater, a melodious warbler, rock sparrows, golden orioles, cirl buntings, Egyptian vultures, subalpine warblers and heard a western Orphean warbler and a western Bonelli's warbler, boosting the list to 168 and we also came across a spotted flycatcher and more griffon vultures, black kites and serins.

It was a good morning for plants, orchids and butterflies also with a variety of beautiful things like violet horned poppy, dodder, beautiful flax, an early spider orchid, a bee orchid, pyramidal orchids, a scarce swallowtail, clouded yellows, green-underside blues, Osiris blue, province charkhill blue, Panopti's blue, southern white admirals, knapweed fritillaries and many more. We spent so much time here that it was getting hotter and I was getting fairly tired with my clothes getting drenched in my own sweat. Spain was in a heatwave before we arrived, and though it wasn't as bad as it had been, I was beginning to feel the heat draining me.

We had lunch back at base, which helped gave me time to recover quite a bit to the point in which I was feeling myself again. But we were back out on the road again as soon as we had finished, heading to another nearby river, the Rio Aragón. We were keeping it very local today, but there was so much to see here still. The highlights for me had to be a colony of very colourful bee-eaters that were nesting together within a riverbank. We also heard a wryneck, came across some military orchids, sombre bee-orchids, an Adonis blue and added woodlark, yellow-legged gull and heard an Iberian green woodpecker to my list, taking it to a tally of 174 species.

As we kept getting distracted by everything we kept finding, the afternoon sun was taking a toll on me again. I was feeling really tired and light-headed. Our guides wanted us to walk around the other side of the river, however, other members of my group were worried about me and wanted me to head back to base with a few others that had also had enough. I reluctantly left with the group heading to the base, but not to miss out on anything, I gave my camera to someone and they got me a woodchat shrike for my bird photo collection (but will not count towards my list), some brown bluebells and a woodcock orchid, of which I also found back at base while I was waiting for them to return.

Bird's-nest Orchid, White Helleborine, Sword-leaved Helleborine, Champagne Orchid
Lizard Orchid, Early Spider Orchid, Lax-flowered Orchid, Lady Orchid
Military Orchid, Woodcock Orchid, Elder-flowered Orchid & Lady's Slipper Orchid

Day 3

I woke up on day 3 looking for nightingales around our base. I managed to find one, but the light was poor for a photo and it moved around a lot. I was so close in achieving one thing I wanted to do on this trip. My nightingale hunt continued. On the plus side, I did get a photo of a crested lark that was perched on top of the swing set in the hotel's garden.

This time, our guides took us to a couple of gorges in the Fargo Valley region. They were taking us to the foothills of the Pyrenees, a little higher in altitude than we've been so far. The weather was different, being overcast and slightly chilly. It was actually a relief for me after suffering yesterday, but it was a rubbish day for butterflies. There was even a bit of rain at one point. We stopped at a viewpoint and were greeted by many griffon vultures sitting on the cliffs waiting for a good thermal to appear on this cold, dull day.

They did eventually find one and took to the air circling over the valley. They were joined by Egyptian vultures, alpine swifts, common swifts and crag and house martins. Not only that, we had a rock bunting, a western Bonelli's warbler, a short-toed treecreeper, a firecrest and a blue rock thrush that leapt into the air to perform it's song flight displays.

Further up, we investigated an area of small hilly meadows, but didn't see too much other than another Bonelli's warbler, a black-veined white and a large tortoiseshell. We then had a picnic lunch at some picnic tables beside an abandoned outdoor swimming pool that is now a makeshift wildlife pond full of water plants and Iberian water frogs.

Next, we stopped at the lovely, little old town of Ansó for a coffee and toilet break. We found a café that initially was closed, but the owner noticed us and kindly reopened. Most of us went inside, but I joined the guides and drank at the tables outside. It was at this moment the bird I've been hoping to see the most on this trip appeared over the town. A lammergeier! Also known as a bearded vulture, this was a big orange-breasted bird with a slight moustache that gives the bird its alternative name. It caught us by surprise and had enough time to grab and fumble around with the camera for one dodgy photo. After it disappeared behind all the buildings, I needed to make my visit to the toilet. And it was at this moment the lammergeier decided to return! I missed it and as I had the camera with me, missed my shot.

Refreshed, we left Ansó and headed to our next location. However, our guides had other plans for this location and purposely drove passed it and beyond. They dropped us of a few miles down the road alongside a river. We were inside a gorge and the plan was for us to walk back up the road, following the river all the way back to our intended destination, a meadow. It was a long walk, but the cool weather helped a lot and the hope of spotting a dipper got me going. We never found one, but I did see plenty of vultures, crag martins, a brief glimpse of a short-toed treecreeper, spotted flycatchers and a grey wagtail.

The plant hunters of the group were happy finding some endemics including Pyrenean saxifrage and ramonda, a very tiny purple flower that they made me risk my life to peek around a rock on the sharp edge of the gorge to look at it! When we finally reached the meadow, there was nothing there! Nothing at all! A waste of time, but a fun walk anyway.

Wildcat, Praying Mantis, Pinnacles of Riglas
Berdún, Alpine Marmot, Castle of Loarre, Chamois
Wall Lizard, Hecho Valley, Egyptian Locust & The Pyrenees

Day 4

It all started pretty well and fairly early on day 4. I woke up to go on my own little walk before breakfast. One other member of the group decided to get up to join me at 6am, in which it was still dark with nightingales singing from almost every bush. I wanted to revisit the Rio Veral again to try and get some photos of some of the birds that I was unable to the other day. This time, I was able to photograph a subalpine warbler and a black kite eating a bird on the wing.

 We went as far as a bridge, but while I was distracted by a few birds on a rocky outcrop, my walk partner somehow managed to get right under a golden oriole while my back was turned. By the time I reached to the spot he was standing, the bird of course flew off. If I was not distracted, I would have gotten a shot of it! We also heard a turtle dove, a cuckoo and saw corn buntings, black redstarts, linnets and short-toed eagles.

On the main agenda, we were heading to the Hecho Valley to climb a steep rocky slope to try and see a wallcreeper at its nest. We were pretty much hiking up a mountain with a 50/50 chance of seeing a small but colourful rock-loving nuthatch that prefers to live at the highest peaks. Before we made the ascent, however, I added a few more birds to my list close to the car park; citril finches, crossbills and a red-backed shrike. The plants were good too with Pyrenean trumpet gentian, sword-leaved helleborine, ciliate rock-jasmine and a one-flowered wintergreen.

The climb up to the wallcreeper ledge was hard for me. The path was narrow and very uneven. For someone who lives in a county which is very flat, this was becoming a challenge to far and I was really struggling. It was also very cold, not the place to be wearing shorts. Good job I packed a pair of trousers with me. I found a spot further up to change away from the group. After a while, all that we could see was lammergeier, some chough, a distant herd of Pyrenean chamois and several griffon vultures. The wallcreeper was a bust! It was a waste of our time as patience waned and the cold was getting too much. I did not enjoy the journey down. My phobia of slipping down high places did not help at all here as I ungracefully navigated each dodgy foothold.

Back at the car park, we then drove on to a grassy spot for a picnic with a crested tit as company. But then, after lunch, I noticed something missing. My phone!! I could not find it anywhere! I last remember using it up the mountain taking photos of the scenery and plants. I must have lost it on the way down somewhere! Unfortunately, we weren't heading back to find it. My phone was lost forever!

Despite my loss, we moved on to some breathtaking viewpoints and a couple of monasteries (including San Juan de la Peña) with encounters of a mole, a scarce swallowtail and some champagne orchids along the way. However, my heart was not really in it. I was feeling rather depressed after losing my phone. Without it, I had no sense of time as I used it as my clock and as my alarm to get up in the mornings. I was unable to keep in touch with my parents directly either. I had to use my guide's phone. I could only remember their house number, but all I could get was their answer machine. I got really angry, really upset and was in quite a bad place mentally.

Southern White Admiral, Knapweed Fritillary, Clouded Apollo, Camberwell Beauty,
Pearly Heath, Black-veined White, Hummingbird Hawkmoth, Passenger Moth
Scarce Swallowtail, Duke Of Burgundy, Oak Hawkmoth & Bordered Straw 

Day 5

I had a terrible night. My mind was eating at me the whole night. Not only that, my stomach was playing up and I had to rush to the toilet to avoid soiling the bed and I was also fighting the stupid bedsheets the entire night. With no phone, I had to ask someone to wake me up for an optional morning walk at 6:45am.

I joined half of the group that also decided to go to this little place a short ride down the road. There were nightingales everywhere (but I was unable to see a single one), turtle doves, corn buntings, a woodchat shrike, woodlarks and a melodious warbler and some lax-flowered orchids. A nice start of the day that cheered me up just a little.

After breakfast, before boarding our buses for our latest outing, I finally achieved something I always wanted to get while out here at long, long last. A photo of a nightingale! One was singing in full view at our base long enough for me to get my shot. With all that had happened and the fact I got this photo after half the week failing, I became so unusually emotional that I teared up! At last, something to feel happy about.

It was going to be a less tiring day as we were heading to some tourist-y places. First was a stop at the Embalse de la Peña dam, where many house martins nested in the cliff crevices by the roadside. The odd crag martin was here too, but they were overshadowed by a male blue rock thrush with a beak-ful of worms on the dam wall. An absolute stunner that was clearly feeding young nearby.

The Pinnacles of Riglas was up next. These huge towers of rock are a very popular climbing destination. Thankfully, we weren't going interested in joining the thrill seekers that were already half way up them. The area around the pinnacles were really good for Sardinian warblers and after many failed attempts, I eventually got a photo of one, one of the best of the holiday in fact. Vultures, alpine swifts and choughs were high in the blue sky and there were some butterfly highlights including a blue-spot hairstreak. 

On the way to Agüero church, our picnic destination, our bus dodged an Iberian grass snake that slithered across the road. The church itself had an interesting history, but we couldn't go in it, so we ate our lunch next to it with rock sparrows and a short-toed treecreeper for company.

As the hot afternoon sun hit, our final stop of the day was at the Castle of Loarre. Here, we split up to do our own thing. Most of us were at the café, its air condition and cool drinks made it a perfect place to refuge from the heat outside, a few paid entry to the castle, while I and a few others had a walk around the grounds for wildlife. There was a raven flying above my head, corn buntings, stonechats, serins, clouded yellows and an Egyptian locust. Nothing too overly exciting, but it ended a day I really needed and I felt like I was far more happier than I was yesterday. Then news came that I was getting a replacement phone and I was able to talk to Mum finally when we returned to base for the evening.

Purple Toothwort, Greater Butterwort, Green Hellebore, Dragonmouth,
Violet-horned Poppy, Ramonda, Pyrenean Snakeshead, Pyrenean Daffodil,
Pyrenean Saxifrage, Pyrenean Trumpet Gentian, Brown Bluebell & Creeping Globularia

Day 6

We returned to rocky slopes and tiring amount of walking today. We were heading even higher in altitude into the Aisa Valley. It was a hot day, but up we were going, it was to be a little cooler. On the way, we came across a pair of Montagu's harriers beside the road and, while driving up and up and up to the car park, we were greeted by the sight of 6+ lady orchids in great condition.

A steep concreate path awaited us as we made our way up to the meadows of the valley itself. Once up there, it was a botanist's dream with many alpine plants on display. This included many orchids such as broad-leaved marsh, fragrant, early purple and two colour versions of elder-flowered orchid (yellow and purple). It was a colourful place full of gentians, buttercups and many other plants, covering a rainbow of colour as a stream cuts through between them. There were a variety of butterflies up here too, including dingy and grizzled skippers, Queen of Spain fritillaries, clouded yellows and a green hairstreak. 

Citril finches, lammergeiers, red billed choughs, a raven, a short-toed eagle, kestrels, red kites, rock buntings and a colony of house martins nesting in a cave provided me with the avian highlights, though I did manage to add alpine chough to my list as well. There were also many lizards and a few alpine marmots and chamois. 

With the long day of hiking around rough terrain and crossing the stream several times via stepping stones, we returned to base for our evening meal. After that, our guides took us to a spot where eagle owls often appear from their roosts to fly over the tops of a forest. Sadly, not this time. However, we did see nightjars and heard a midwife toad peeping in the dark. 

Day 7

Our final full day as a group and we began with a moth session. The guides had set up a moth trap overnight and there were so many moths and even a couple of praying mantis. There were moths everywhere, not just in the trap but on the surrounding walls too. The highlights include a oak hawkmoth, the passenger, a goat moth, a bordered straw and the shark to name just a few.

Once that was over, we travelled to the Spanish/French border. Our first stop was a special one as we parked beside a busy road in the Tena Valley region. A man with a pipe and hiking stick was on guard as he had been for a couple of decades or so. What was he guarding? One of only two locations in Spain to see lady's slipper orchids. This roadside spot was discovered about 50 years ago. They were so beautiful! I've always wanted to see one. It wasn't a very long visit, but it was a very satisfying one.

We then travelled to Portalet, a place that gave me a feeling of deja vu as it was to be another place of up and down rocky slopes just like yesterday. Thankfully, it wasn't quite as long and there was a bar nearby to retreat to. This was a place the guides knew that had alpine accentors. Unfortunately, not this time as those of the group fit enough to go up to a high spot that usually had them were nowhere to be seen. That section of the site was just too steep for me, so I didn't join them. However, I did see many wheatears, water pipits, black redstarts and a few alpine marmots. We had some good plants too, such as Pyrenean snakeshead and some alpine daffodils.

We didn't find the alpine accentors, but I was responsible in finding one bird better. I was scanning the rocks and I noticed something poking out of one. It was a rufous-tailed rock thrush! The bird was so inconspicuous that the group couldn't believe I even found it. I took a couple of photos, but they were a bit effected by the distance and heat haze that they were a bit blurry to really appreciate its bright colours.

Sallent a la Sarra was our destination for lunch and our final walk of the trip. We followed a river on both sides, making a loop back towards the car park. Butterflies were amazing here. There were so many of them and of many species, from skippers to blues to fritillaries and everything in between. My favourites were the magnificent Camberwell beauties, the small but colourful Duke of Burgundies and some clouded apollos. We also had a golden eagle soaring very high in the bright blue sky.

Day 8

We travelled back to Zaragoza for our plane home. It was kind of sad as we went by places we've visited before. Leaving the Pyrenees behind, I added two new birds to my list on the way to the airport; a hoopoe and a purple heron, both flying by or over the bus. It leaves me on 197 species, an additional 46 species. Though, I will have to kind of reset back to 151 species and try and make the same number for my British list. 

The plane was very delayed, which kind of soured things just a little bit on what was a fun yet tiring and emotional vacation. I've even got a new phone out of it and many great memories of things I've always wanted to see or never thought I'd see.

Tuesday, 31 May 2022

Unexpected Ticks

 May 1st Strumpshaw Fen

It is International Dawn Chorus Day and Dad and I were up before sunrise to experience it at Strumpshaw. I've done it twice here before and both times were magical, full of mist that gradually melted away in bright sunshine while bitterns boomed and barn owls hunt in the illuminated gloom. This time, however, wasn't quite as amazing as it was overcast, providing no grand sunrise, and the bitterns didn't really boom and there were no owls in sight.

With it being overcast, the darkness just slowly dimmed into daylight like using a dimmer light switch. And though it was lacking in bitterns, it was still an interesting dawn chorus with a slightly different cast of songsters than previously. We arrived at the reserve at 4:20am and the reedbeds were already alive with sedge, Cetti's and grasshopper warblers, cuckoos and greylags. The grasshopper warblers and cuckoos were definitely the stars of the show for this morning's chorus as I could hear them everywhere.

Grey Wagtail (May 1st), Wall Butterfly (May 2nd)
Ring Ouzel (May 9th), Black-winged Stilt (May 14th)

Walking around the reserve and as the morning progressed, more and more birds joined in. Blackcaps, willow warblers, chiffchaffs, shelducks, redshanks, marsh harriers, greenfinches, stock doves, song and mistle thrushes, whitethroats and even redwings were just some of the birds we heard from all over the reserve. While walking back from Tower Hide, a lesser whitethroat surprised us with a brief appearance by alerting us with a short and very quick song outburst. We also came across a stoat, the bluebells in full display, pochards, several black-head gulls and a great crested grebe building their nests at Tower Hide and, at Reception Hide, a female grey wagtail was the best way to end the walk on.

On the way home, though, disaster struck when the fan belt in my parent's car came off not too far away from home! It made this year's dawn chorus a memorable one for all the wrong reasons.

May 2nd Strumpshaw Fen

It was a bank holiday Monday and I wasn't sure about bus times and with the car out of commission, so I decided to walk from home to Norwich train station. I ended up doing a LOT of walking today. Walking to Tower Hide and back was a bit of an overkill. However, I did see a cuckoo, marsh harriers, pochards, wigeon, shovelers, gadwall and redshanks, so wasn't all bad. And on the way back to Reception Hide, I had a wall brown butterfly fly around me on the Sandy Wall.

At Reception Hide, I saw my first hobby of the year, a kingfisher, a grey wagtail (that was the star of the show), swallows, bearded tits, ducklings and cygnets, a pied wagtail and many black-headed gulls.

After my shift, I was offered a lift back to Brundall station by Strumpshaw regular and friend, Liz Dack. We had a quick detour as we stopped at an area of trees where little owls were known to frequent. We managed to hear one and then a very brief glimpse as it flew into one of the very leafed trees. Still counted for me and it took me to 143 bird species this year.

May 9th Strumpshaw Fen & Buckenham

A group of hares chasing a female in a field greeted me as I made my way to Strumpshaw for another week. It was a great start and it got even better when I added a garden warbler to my year list. It was providing some good views as it sang in an almost leafless tree along the river as I was heading to Tower Hide. Sadly, I couldn't get any photos as I was having trouble locating it with my camera.

The sky was full of hobbies, but I still couldn't find any swifts yet. It wasn't until a day or two later when I saw these aerial screechers on the way to work. On the nectar garden log, red mason bees and various other bees and wasp species that target their nests were very busy. Butterflies were everywhere, including orange-tips, holly blues, speckled woods, peacocks and brimstones and there were even a few dragonflies and damselflies on the wing too. The bluebells were in full display still in the wood, but despite being reported, I couldn't find the spotted flycatchers that were apparently in the area. I also heard a grasshopper warbler, seen the odd bearded tit, swallows, marsh harriers, herons, sedge, willow and reed warblers and blackcaps.

Before heading home, my Reception Hide partner for the day, Barry, took me to a sandy, rabbit hole ridden pit in a paddock not far from the Buckenham Marshes car park to see a male ring ouzel that had suddenly been reported. It didn't take long to spot it hopping around at the top of the pit providing the best views I've ever had. You could see the white breast patch very clearly. Finally! I could finally tick one off my list at long last! I even got a few photos for my bucket list challenge.

May 14th Hickling Broad

Hickling was becoming a hive of activity recently with all kinds of things showing up. This included black-winged stilts and swallowtails. It was the perfect excuse for an outing there with my parents and seek them out.

Brendan's Marsh was the place to be. The place where the stilts and many other interesting waders were being seen at. Arriving to this part of the reserve, we instantly got a male stilt and very close views too. It's black and white body appears to bounce around on its long, gangly red legs that create its characteristic movements as it searched for food amongst the short submerged grass. I ended up seeing possibly another 1-3 others throughout the morning, which made me wonder if these scarce birds would breed here this year.

We explored these pools for the rest of the morning and I added a yellow wagtail and a wood sandpiper to my list. There were many ringed and little ringed plovers, a few dunlin, redshanks, a spotted redshank, common sandpipers, the odd godwit and plenty of goslings. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the ring ouzel, Temminck's stint or even the bittern that were also around while I was there.

After lunch, we went for a walk to the hides and to search for swallowtails that had recently emerged. It started well with a kingfisher at Cadbury Hide. But, it was along the path towards the Observatory Hide where things got exciting. Not one, not two, but 4-5 swallowtails ended up flying around us here (though not all at once). Disappointingly, not a single one landed to pose for a photo.

We also saw many hobbies, a few common terns, some low flying marsh harriers, dragonflies and butterflies everywhere, heard cranes bugling, a bittern booming, bearded tits pinging, a cuckoo calling from somewhere and we ended the trip getting passed some Konic ponies that were blocking our way.

May 15th Norwich

A black redstart had been reported at Anglia Square on the day I was out at Hickling. Thinking that it could still be there, I left my flat and walked down reasonably early in the morning while the traffic was fairly quiet and there weren't too many people were around. Before I even reached the car park, I could hear it singing from some distance away. And as I arrived at the car park, there it was, singing from the roof top. Climbing up the stairs to the next level, where the abandoned cinema is, I managed to get better views. This was to be my 150th bird and what a funny and ironic location to get it, above the place I work at!
Kingfisher & Konic Ponies (May 14th)
Black Redstart (May 15th), Scarce Chaser (May 16th)
Swallowtail & Ichneumon Wasp (May 30th) 

May 16th Strumpshaw Fen

I had a list of things to look for before my latest shift was over. First up, searching for spotted flycatchers in the woods. I got to the den building area and found a pair fairly quickly. A few yards later, and another pair by the bluebells. Two pairs not far from each other, I couldn't had asked for anything better. They posed on branches as they normally do, but as soon as I tried to get a photo, they moved to the next branch. Not getting a photo was my only regret to what was a great encounter to my 151st bird.

Next up, I sat by the meadow gate pond and had a couple of glimpses of a water vole. I hadn't seen a water vole at Strumpshaw for years. It was very surprising as there's still a mink problem at the reserve, but with so many water vole sightings recently, it is very reassuring.

When I got back to the Reception Hide, it suddenly got a bit stormy as a thunderstorm appeared. Thankfully, it was only a couple of rumbles and a short, sudden shower that didn't lead to much. However, it may had been enough to delay the swallowtails at Strumpshaw as none were seen. 

So no swallowtails, but I did get a scarce chaser dragonfly, which was an immature male as it was orange with a black line down the abdomen. Also seen was a kingfisher, hobbies, swallows, common terns, muntjac deer, red mason bees and ruby-tailed wasps, though I missed out on a pair of cranes flying over the reserve while I was helping someone answering a bird question.

May 22nd - 29th The Spanish Pyrenees

This is an adventure that I will talk about next time. Look forward to it.

May 30th Strumpshaw Fen

After a week in Spain, I arrived to Strumpshaw and noticed a few changes that happened while I was away. The booth attached to the Reception Hide was gone! The hide was open to the public after over 2 years since it was forced to close due to Covid-19 restrictions. Inside, I noticed that my drawing that I did to celebrate my first 10 years as a volunteer and for the reserve's 45th anniversary was hung on the wall behind the desk. 

Another change was that the meadow trail was open. There wasn't much around at the moment, but I did hear a grasshopper warbler nearby. Meanwhile, at the Fen Hide, I watched a female marsh harrier collect nesting material from right in front of the hide. I also heard cuckoos, bearded tits and Cetti's warblers.

At Reception Hide, it was a great morning for swallowtail butterflies. At least 2-3 were flying around the surrounding area of the hide. Of course, as of previous years before the lockdowns, many people were seeking for them and were having a good time watching them pose for them as they drink the nectar from the irises and other flowers nearby. I also saw a hobby, swallows, house martins, swifts, some kind of ichneumon wasp and a heron.

Saturday, 30 April 2022

Bursting To Life

 April 2nd Whitlingham Broad

My first trip out in April and it was a dull one. There was not much out of the ordinary and not a single swallow in sight. The broad was mostly dominated with black-headed gulls and a few tufted ducks and great crested grebes and a couple of blackcaps. Not a visit to remember.

April 3rd Morston to Stiffkey, Cley & Salthouse

I had a surprise invitation to go out with my former Reception Hide partner, Tricia. She was going to check on her boat in Morston and wondered if I wanted to go with her and and spend the day birding along the North Norfolk coast. Of course, I accepted.

After the quick boat check, we walked from Morston harbour to Stiffkey Fen, where a dusky warbler was about. It was a long walk, but produced plenty of things along the way. This included a large flock of probably 100+ linnets, a red kite, 2 buzzards, 2 kestrels, 2 stonechats, many brent geese, shelducks, redshanks, curlews, black-tailed godwits, knot, golden plovers, a grey plover and marsh harriers.

Eventually, we reached this path along the edge of the fen where the warbler was supposed to be. Not far down the path beside a ditch, I heard a strange 'tsck' call and glimpsed the potential bird in question. I then noticed a group of twitchers further up in a clearing. Turned out we had found the warbler and they were looking in the wrong place. We took them to where we heard it last and it wasn't long until we came across it again.

Dusky Warbler, Avocet & Wheatear (April 3rd) & Garganey (April 11th)

We had a few more glimpses until Tricia decided to leave me to fetch the car back at Morston so that she could return to pick me up and have lunch. While I waited, the warbler was showing itself a lot more, including one very brief moment being on a branch in the open right in front of me. Annoyingly, it was impossible for me to photograph as it was constantly on the move and obscured by foliage.

A dusky warbler was basically a chiffchaff but browner with a pale supercilium and is from Serbia and Asia. It made itself easier to locate when it made its call which is short and sharp, but could easily be misheard as it was very subtle at times. This was my first ever dusky warbler and though I had decent views, I could not get a single photo. A tick to my list, but not a tick to my photo bucket list challenge.

Next up was a visit to Cley, where we saw another red kite, avocets, ruff, oystercatchers, ringed plovers, curlews, godwits, shelducks, wigeon, a little egret and a turnstone. Then we made a quick stop at Salthouse marshes before heading home and saw a handsome male wheatear to end the day on.

April 4th Strumpshaw Fen

After a very sunny and beautiful day out with Tricia, the next day at Strumpshaw couldn't had been any more different. It was a bit drizzly and grey. Thankfully, it did brighten up by the afternoon. During my walk, I had a snipe fly over and that was about it. While at Reception Hide, there was a bittern fly by, a sparrowhawk, marsh harriers and bearded tits.

April 9th Whitlingham Broad

Another uneventful walk around Whitlingham. Again, mostly black-headed gulls and a few tufted ducks and still no swallows.

April 10th Norwich

While making my way to Carrow Road to watch what became a rare Premier League win against Burnley, I walked along river hoping to see a grey wagtail. I was successful! I found one singing on a fence post behind the Playhouse theatre. It took me to 122 birds for 2022!

April 11th Strumpshaw Fen

A sunny morning and a good one that saw my list boost up by three. First to be added was a willow warbler and then a sedge warbler during my walk. Then, at Reception Hide, I finally got my first swallow!

On my pre-shift walk, I visited Tower Hide, seeing just black-headed gulls, a few tufted ducks, a pair of pochards and shelducks. Then, on the way back, a pair of garganey by the bench overlooking the Accidental Broad near the sluices. I also saw redshanks, marsh harriers and an early nomad bee (Nomada leucophthalma). There was a brief visit to Buckenham, but nothing much other than lapwings, greylags, a few Chinese water deer, little egrets and a flock of linnets.

April 18th Strumpshaw Fen

An overcast Easter Monday, but a very good day over all. I had a quick walk to the sluices and back and saw a pair of bearded tits, a marsh harrier carrying nesting material, my first whitethroat of the year and heard a green woodpecker and a couple of grasshopper warblers reeling.

Back at Reception, a cuckoo was calling from a tall silver birch and later moved to other trees and shrubs in view from the hide. Common terns have also returned from migration, as were reed warblers, which joined the other 6 warbler species that I could hear from the Reception (sedge, willow, Cetti's, chiffchaff, blackcap and grasshopper). I also saw swallows, coots with 8 chicks, a shelduck and red mason bees. My list was now at 130 bird species!

My parents showed up for lunch and an afternoon walk through the woods, pass the pumphouse, along the river, a quick visit to Fen Hide and back for an ice cream at Reception Hide. We had an encounter with a mole pushing up soil (though we didn't see the mole itself), a vole, marsh harriers flying low over our heads, hearing a grasshopper warbler by Fen Hide and ending the walk with an otter in front of the Reception Hide.

April 24th Thornham, Titchwell & Choseley Barns

It was my turn to organise a trip out with Tricia and we went to the North Norfolk coast in the hope of finding a ring ouzel or two as well as anything else we can find. We began at a field outside Thornham where three dotterel had been reported. After a short walk down a country track sandwiched between hedges and farmland and passing many people on a sponsored walk wearing yellow Norwich shirts, we came across a group of twitchers who quickly pointed them out these colourful plovers to us. 

Early Nomad Bee (Nomada leucophthalma) (April 11), Red Mason Bee (April 18th),
Dotterel, Little Ringed Plover
& Temminck's Stint (April 24th) & Raven (April 30th) 

The views were really effected by heat haze, but they were charming birds with one stunning male and two females. These birds were only stopping here momentarily before they head north to breed on the mountains of Scotland, in which it is the male that does all the brooding. We spent about an hour to admire them and I tried to get some good photos, but sadly the heat haze was just awful and I had to settle with what I've got. While fighting my camera and the haze, two ring ouzels flew over. I missed them, but Tricia saw them. However, she wasn't satisfied as they were like two distant black dots. We had to settle with a female wheatear instead. The search continues!

Our next and main destination was Titchwell. It wasn't ring ouzels we wanted to see here but a Temminck's stint. This was a very tiny wader and one I haven't seen before. It took some time and a short trip to the beach until we finally managed to get the best and closest views of it from the Parinder Hide. Even then, my camera was battling to focus properly. The stint itself wasn't the most exciting to look at, just a small brown and white wader, but the way it moved was pretty interesting as it swayed its head from side to side as it searched for food.

Not only did I add dotterel and Temminck's stint to my list, I also added spoonbill, spotted redshank (a very dark and distant one), house martins and common sandpipers. On top of that were little ringed and common ringed plovers, avocets, ruffs, turnstones, sanderlings, oystercatchers, red kites, marsh harriers, greylags with goslings, common terns, linnets, swallows, pochards, a great white egret and a large red damselfly.

Our final stop was at Choseley Barns. This is usually a good place to see corn buntings, but we didn't see any this time around. But we did get lucky in finding two grey partridges and flocks of yellowhammers. And as we drove towards Docking, a hare ran in front of Tricia's car before darting into a hedgerow. My list was now only 2 away from 140!

April 25th Strumpshaw Fen

Similar to last Monday, but not quite as good. However, I did hear 2 grasshopper warblers, had a kingfisher briefly perch in front of Reception Hide, finally added a sand martin to my list and saw a cuckoo, a great crested grebe, a juvenile great black-backed gull, marsh harriers, a very pale buzzard and many, many black-headed gulls. 

April 30th North Norfolk

I was given a tip off that ravens were nesting at a site in North Norfolk. Ravens are a rare sight in Norfolk, so to have a pair nest here is quite something special. It wasn't hard to locate the nest (which I will keep hush hush for now) and one bird was sitting on it, while the second provided all of my attention as it sat in full view in a tree nearby. It sat there preening the entire time my mum and I were there and it kept calling every now and then. I couldn't ask for any better of a view and took many photos of it. A great bird to make as my 140th species for my 2022 bird list!

High above the raven, we watched 2 red kites and 2 buzzards circle over us. There was another red kite by the lake and was trying to catch one of the many ducklings on the water. There were many ducklings and goslings (of greylag and barnacle geese), oystercatchers, tufted ducks, swallows and a pair of shelducks also seen today.

Thursday, 31 March 2022

A Month Of Changes

 March 2nd Strumpshaw Fen

This was to be my final Wednesday shift at Strumpshaw as I will be changing to Mondays. I have a new job now at QD as a shelf filler and requires me to work Tuesdays to Fridays. This led to a rather emotional day for me as after 11 years of doing Wednesday mornings, I will no longer be doing them and leaving my long-time Reception Hide partner, Tricia.

My final Wednesday turned out to be a very eventful one. Not only did I arrive late due to my bus being late and forcing me to catch a much later train than usual, I had some great wildlife encounters too. First, there was a great white egret at Fen Hide. Then, in the woods, there were so many siskins that they made the place deafening with their calls with the sounds of bullfinches, mistle thrushes and my first chiffchaff of the year mixed in among them.

Greylags and gadwall dominated the view from Reception Hide as well as 2 shelducks, 2 Egyptian geese. The big highlights, though, was a bittern flying over the broad and was soon followed by an otter. The otter was highly entertaining as it at one point sneaked up under a swan and gave it a nip! The swan's reaction was priceless. It didn't like it much and quickly made the otter think twice and forced it to move on. It was an amazing way to end my final shift on a Wednesday.

Great White Egret (March 2nd), Red-breasted Goose (March 4th),
Wren & Clarke's Mining Bees (March 7th)

March 4th Cley

With my schedule about to change, this particular Friday was to be my last free week day that I could go on an outing with my mum. I managed to persuade her to take me out to Cley to try and find the red-breasted goose that I missed out a month before. This bird was hanging out with a flock of brent geese that was very mobile, constantly moving around between Cley and Salthouse and sometimes at Blakeney. It was a proper wild goose chase.

We stopped at the visitor centre after passing a packed car park at Iron Road, where we learned that was where the goose was. Instead of going back, we decided to check out the hides and then East Bank first. It was a very, dull, gloomy day with poor light and was a bit foggy. Not the best of days to visit Cley, but we still saw plenty of things including several snipe, avocets, black-tailed godwits, shelducks, ruff, dunlin, curlew, redshanks, wigeon, teal, shovelers, marsh harriers, a meadow pipit and heard some bearded tits.

The conditions were worsening by the time we returned to the car, but there was just enough time to seek out the goose, which was now on an arable field just back up the road towards Salthouse. I managed to locate the flock of brent and got Mum to stop the car at the gate at Babcock Hide. After a few scans of the flock, I finally found the bird I came to see. In the poor light, it blended well amongst the brent, but its white striped markings helped in giving itself away.

Red-breasted geese are from Eastern Europe and are possibly the most colourful geese in the world. They are fairly common in wildfowl collections, but I believe this one was likely a wild bird, a scarce visitor to the UK. I was so happy to finally see this individual the 2nd time of asking as everyone out of my birding friends appear to have seen it except for me. I've seen this species in zoos, etc, but never in the wild. A nice addition to my bucket list.

March 7th Strumpshaw Fen

My first Monday shift at Strumpshaw since changing jobs and it was kind of a weird experience. Though there was no difference to my usual Wednesday shift other being on a different day of the week, I still had to remind myself that it wasn't Wednesday.

I decided to walk down to Tower Hide after a disappointing visit to Fen Hide. The path along the river was drying out nicely and was able to get to Tower Hide with no problem. Along the way, I finally managed to tick off kingfisher at long last for 2022. In fact, there were three of them having a territorial dispute. There were also some other birds that I think were redwing but produced a sound I'm not familiar with. It sounded like an alarm call or contact call that was like a buzzy "tsweeeee!" I just couldn't put my finger on it. From Tower Hide, there wasn't much around other than common gulls amongst many black-headed gulls and very little else.

Back at Reception Hide, I saw the usual greylags, gadwall, mallards, a few teal, coot, a swan, a heron and a few sky dancing marsh harriers. It was a nice sunny day and there were surprisingly few visitors around, so I had a short walk in the woods finding 2 fighting treecreepers, a colony of Clarke's mining bees, goldcrests, siskins, some coltsfoot in bloom and heard some drumming woodpeckers.

March 12th Minsmere

As I was working during my 36th birthday (March 11th), my parents decided to take me out to Minsmere as my birthday outing. It was a warm, sunny day and the visit started well with a few adders basking in front of the sand martin cliff. There was someone there to point them out to us and a group of other visitors, but it was so tricky to locate them amongst the vegetation. In the end, I managed to locate two of them. One was a rare black adder, which instantly got me humming the old sitcom's theme tune and wondering where Baldrick was with one of his cunning plans.

Black Adder & Glossy Ibis (March 12th)
Siskin & Bearded Tit (March 14th)

The hides around the scrapes provided views of displaying lapwings, black-tailed godwits, marsh harriers, pintails, wigeon, teal, shovelers, shelducks, avocets, dunlin and Mediterranean gulls. The walk to and along the beach had some interesting encounters including a toad, bearded tits, Cetti's warblers and a wheatear, which was hopping on the ground close behind some WW2 tank traps (or dragon teeth as they are also known as).

At the sluice gate, Mum decided to continue onwards to the visitor centre, while Dad and I went to look for two scarce birds in the area. First was a glossy ibis that was feeding in a pool near the pony paddock. Many people were watching from the gate on the reserve, but Dad and I followed a different path to the side of this pool and got really close views of the bird. I got a few good photos of it before it flew off, which I hope wasn't our doing. 

The other bird I wanted to see was the lesser yellowlegs, which was further up the beach towards Sizewell nuclear plant in a few pools known as the 'Lucky Pools'. They weren't so lucky for me as I wasn't able to find this American equivalent of a redshank but with yellow legs. I wish I brought my scope, as you really needed one to look for it and even then, it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. However, I did see some barnacle geese flying in and some stonechats sitting on the gorse bushes around me.

After meeting up with Mum for a late lunch at the visitor centre, we walked over to Island Mere Hide via the hill Springwatch was once based years ago. The hide was full of people, but was able to find a seat in time to see 2 bitterns fly around together before looping back round and landing into the reeds. I also saw a sleeping snipe, marsh harriers, and two great crested grebes. Feeling tired and my back killing me, we decided to skip Bittern Hide and head back to the car, where we had a send off from a muntjac deer, rabbits, pheasants and magpies.

March 14th Strumpshaw Fen

A really sunny second Monday shift at Strumpshaw and the place was alive with bird song, which included chiffchaffs, bullfinches and siskins. Fen Hide was a bit uneventful other than a heron, a Chinese water deer and marsh harriers being there. I did hear bearded tits pinging from the hide, but moving on to the top of Sandy Wall, I actually had quite an encounter with seven of these small birds and managed to get a few amazing photos of them posing atop of the reed heads in the brilliant sunlight.

Reception Hide was very quiet with barely anything to look at on the broad. Low flying marsh harriers was as good as it got. So I went for a quick walk around the woods and found treecreepers, the colony of Clarke's mining bees again, a brimstone and some queen bumblebees. Sadly, I missed out on a woodcock that apparently flew pass the Reception Hide before I arrived back from my pre-shift walk due to being spooked from the chainsaw work going on by the reserve's entrance that morning.

March 19th Strumpshaw Fen

It was a Saturday and I really wanted to go to Strumpshaw to see a duck. Garganey have returned from their migration from Africa and at least two were at the reserve. From my experience, they usually hang around a few days before moving off. So here I was at Strumpshaw just in case they disappeared by my latest shift on Monday. 

On arrival, I went straight to Tower Hide. They were still there! A male and a female. However, they were fast asleep with heads under wing. They did wake up briefly after being startled by something, but the photos were distant and a bit rubbish.

After returning for a lunch and toilet break, I decided to give the garganey another chance and walked all the way back to Tower Hide. This time, they were fully awake AND close to the front of the hide! Both together! I couldn't ask for anything better. The male was utterly stunning and the female, while no where near as showy, was subtly beautiful in her own way. The male was even croaking, a sound he uses to impress her and something I haven't heard in ages.

Garganey (March 19th)
Sanderling, Brambling 
& Meadow Pipit (March 27th) & dewy spider web (March 28th)

Also seen that day included; 5 redshanks, shelducks, 2 low flying buzzards soaring above my head, marsh harriers, a little grebe, a lizard, small tortoiseshells, red admirals, commas, peacocks and bee-fly.

March 21st Strumpshaw Fen

I returned to Strumpshaw, this time for my shift, my 3rd for a Monday and I went straight to Tower Hide. It was a frosty start, but that made the view that much more spectacular. And, I was happy to say that the garganey were still here, though sleeping once again. A goose did wake them up to move, but they went back to sleep almost instantly. As I waited for them to stir again, sound of a booming bittern shook the sleepy, misty atmosphere of the scene only slightly for a brief moment. 

Back at Reception Hide, it was much warmer and became a very nice day. On the wildlife side, the broad outside the hide wasn't producing much, a fairly quiet scene. But then, it suddenly erupted into life as three cranes circled high above the reserve, announcing themselves with their loud bugling calls. As soon as the cranes left, a grass snake was seen swimming in front of the hide, but I wasn't quick enough and missed it as it vanished into a reedbed.

March 27th Titchwell

It was Mother's Day in the UK and what better place to spend the day with Mum (and Dad) than at Titchwell. It was a really nice day, though there were some misty spells. There were plenty of birds around too, starting with a flock of brambling on the bird tables behind the visitor centre.

Out on the reserve, I felt like a bird guide as I not only pointed out the many species out on the reserve to my parents but also to two other visitors and their dog. Throughout my walk, the list of bird names grew and grew. Marsh harriers, red kite, avocets, brent geese, Canada geese, greylags, teal, shovelers, shelducks, gadwall, pochards, golden plover, displaying meadow pipits performing their parachuting song flights, Mediterranean gulls, tufted ducks, linnets, little egrets, wigeon, black-tailed godwits, little grebe, oystercatchers, skylarks, turnstones, redshanks and buzzards. An impressive bird haul, but I also added a toad as well, which sat by the side of the main path as we made our way towards the beach.

While I was here, I wanted to boost my own bird list that I've been doing since January. So far I had 115 before our visit here and I really wanted 5 more before the end of the month. I've already got all the birds mentioned above and I didn't get to add anything new until I reached the beach. The tide was in, so my hope of any exposure to the rich smorgasbord that the seaweed covered rocks provide for many hungry waders was dashed. However, I still managed to tick off sanderlings that were trotting along the shoreline like little wind-up toys. As we made our way back, I spotted some knot and then, from the Parrinder Hide, a pair of little ringed plovers and a rock pipit. I ended my visit with 119, just one bird short of my monthly target!

March 28th Strumpshaw Fen

It was feeling like it was changing back to winter. It wasn't as warm as it has been all month and it was very murky with a thick mist covering the landscape. First thing on my agenda was to go check if the garganey were still around at Tower Hide. I started to make my way there, however, as I reached as far as the sluice gates when I heard a familiar croaking sound. I looked over the Accidental Broad and there they were! Two males and one female! Seeing them here saved me the journey, so I turned back without going any further. As I turned the corner back onto the Sandy Wall, I encountered a small flock of bearded tits close to the path. I also had some in front of Reception Hide with the sun burning its way through the mist revealing bluer skies and warm sunshine.

With no other free days to birdwatch, this was realistically my last chance to really get my 120th bird before March ended. And I'm pleased to say that I reached my goal. In the woods, by Basecamp, I heard my first blackcap of the year. It didn't show itself very well, only glimpses, but it was better than nothing. Just hearing it was enough for me.

There was a moment of excitement as I was about to leave for home as news arrived of a white-tailed eagle was seen flying over Surlingham and was heading this way to Strumpshaw! Alas, there was no sign of it and I had to leave. What a tick for my 121st bird that would have been!

Monday, 28 February 2022

Storming To 100 Birds

Feb 1st Whitlingham Broad

Fed up of waiting around for a shift at my postal sorting job, I wanted to go out for some fresh air and a walk around Whitlingham Broad. My Mum kindly dropped me off this afternoon and I went off to look for new birds to add to my year list. It was a pleasant day for it, though quite blustery, which would set the theme for the rest of the month. Despite the windy conditions, there were plenty of birds about. On the broad were large numbers of gadwall, tufted ducks, coots, mallards and the odd pochard. Meanwhile, by the barn car park, a couple brought a tub of seed with them and all the swans, geese (greylags, Egyptian and the local barnacle), ducks and gulls (black-headed, common and lesser black-backed mostly) quickly surrounded them in an instant.

Making my round the broad, a kestrel braved over the choppy waters and attempted to hunt the wildfowl for some reason before thinking twice about it and left. Further along, I spotted a few distant male goldeneye. Their white cheek patches were very visible and helped distinguish them even from as far off as they were. Returning back to the spot where the couple were feeding the ducks, etc, the light was beginning to fade and I managed to find the male mandarin that must have just arrived to roost and was already dozing off. Also seen during my visit were; shovelers, cormorants, one great crested grebe and a very distant and high soaring sparrowhawk.

Mandarin Duck (Feb 1st), Flood damage (Feb 2nd) & Snowdrops (Feb 9th)

Feb 2nd Strumpshaw Fen

On the final weekend of January, I discovered some news from Strumpshaw that, due to Storm Malik, the reserve recorded its worst ever flood since the RSPB took over over 45 years ago. The River Yare rose to 1.40m and most of Strumpshaw's paths were underwater and closed off.

On my arrival for my latest shift a few days later, I feared for the worst. The road beside the car park was a shallow stream and didn't give me much confidence. But, thankfully, it wasn't too bad. I managed to walk around most of the reserve with no problem and the flood had subsided greatly. The paths leading to Fen and Tower hides remained underwater and out of bounds, the only areas in which were still badly effected. The woodland trail and the Reception Hide were the places to be with great spotted woodpeckers, Chinese water deer, Muntjac deer, marsh harriers, siskins, gadwall, shovelers, mallards (including a white one), greylags, mute swans, herons, teal, scarlet elfcap fungus and snowdrops.

Feb 8th Catton Park

A short visit to my local park. Highlights being 2 buzzards, 4 stock doves and a great spotted woodpecker.

Feb 9th Strumpshaw Fen

A much drier walk at Strumpshaw as the flood had subsided to normal levels. The Fen Hide was open again, but there wasn't much to see other than 3 Chinese water deer and a couple of marsh harriers. During my morning walk, I witnessed hundreds of pink-footed geese fill the sky with skein after skein, 10 snipe flying into the meadows, siskins, redwings, and, near Base Camp, the small display of snowdrops were now at their best. At Reception Hide, the broad was full of greylags, gadwall, a few mallards, shovelers and coot, in which one pair was building a nest.

Feb 10th Kelling Quags & Cley

Dad and I went in search of the red-breasted goose that was spending time with the brent geese at Cley. Along the way, we stopped at Kelling Quags. Here, we had a field full with pink-footed geese (but no sign of the tundra bean geese that were apparently amongst them), wigeon, shovelers, red-legged partridges and great black-backed gulls.

After a stop at the Kelling tea rooms, we made our way to Cley. On the drive up, we noticed many people looking at something from East Bank. Sadly, there was nowhere to park, so we continued to the beach where I was hoping to see the red-breasted goose. However, there was no sign of anything. We had a quick scan around at the blind overlooking the pools from the beach side, where many brent geese were, but not the goose I wanted. There were a few pintails, teal, wigeon, shovelers and a curlew as well and we came across a stonechat and skylarks on the return to the car.

Pink-footed Geese (Feb 10th), Scarlet Elfcaps (Feb 16th)
Storm damage, Song Thrush,
Peacock & Marsh Harrier (Feb 23rd)

At the visitor centre, I learned that the goose was indeed at the East Bank and had since flown east. I had missed my chance! Though I had failed to see it, we had a quick look along East Bank anyway and I added little egrets, grey plover, ringed plovers, oystercatchers and turnstones to my bird list and it took me to 101 species!

Feb 13th Sheringham

I had the opportunity to go sea watching at Sheringham before the latest storm arrived. While my parents went into town, I was left at a shelter with my scope to scan the sea for an hour. The sea seemed flat and calm and empty with just a few gulls and the odd seal, but once I had my eye in, I managed to spot a few distant gannets, red-throated divers and one guillemot.

Once my hour was up, I had a quick look around for purple sandpipers, but could only find turnstones, many of them. At times, these turnstones came up to my feet!

Feb 16th Strumpshaw Fen

A very windy morning, but still relatively warm. Despite the strong winds, I still saw a few good things. At Fen Hide, there was a heron, a snipe, 2 mute swans, greylags, and marsh harriers. The woods, meanwhile, were a deafening place due to the raucous twittering of siskins as well as treecreepers, nuthatches, song thrushes, marsh tits and other common woodland birds minus the woodpeckers. Scarlet elfcap fungi were everywhere on the ground and were more vivid than ever thanks to the perfect light conditions.

It was a bit quieter at Reception hide, but at the end of my shift, provided me with the big highlight of the day in the form of two red kites. With their long wings and distinctive forked tails, it made them easier to identify over the buzzards and marsh harriers that were also around. Other than that, there were 14 coots, about 10+ greylags, a couple of Canada geese and 2 more mute swans.

Feb 20th Buckenham Marshes

Two days after Storm Eunice battered the country, the most dangerous storm in a long, long time, Dad and I decided that we go for a short walk at Buckenham for a couple of hours. We must have been out of our minds. It was another stormy day with Franklin blowing a gale, the third storm in a week! Though not quite as powerful as Eunice, it still wasn't the best conditions to be in. It was more of the rain than the strong winds that really got to us in the end, though, as we were absolutely soaking!

Despite the storm, there was still plenty to see. Marsh harriers were braving the howling gales to attempt to hunt and helped us out in seeing everything that was possibly on the marshes as everything flew up into the dangerous stormy sky to escape becoming a snack. Hundreds of them. Wigeon, lapwing, golden plover and starling were up there swirling around like flakes in a snow globe that's been shook up.

Feb 23rd Strumpshaw Fen

Damage caused by Strom Eunice was still evident to see when I arrived at Strumpshaw for my last shift for February. The ivy covered tree that was standing near Reception Hide was one of several trees that was toppled over and remained on the ground. Good thing it didn't fall in the opposite direction. Thankfully, all the hides and facilities survived the storm without a scratch. 

A big flood had also occurred the day before this shift and had forced Fen Hide and Tower Hide to close. I went to check out the latest conditions and was able to get to Fen Hide with no problem, enough for the sign for closure to be removed. Not that there was much to see, however. 

There was a lot more activity in the woods as the birds were full of song, which included the voices of song and mistle thrushes, hundreds of siskins and I also encountered 2 treecreepers spiralling up a tree. It was a lovely day, so much so that I saw my first butterfly of the year, a peacock which sunned itself next to the fallen ivy tree. What made my day, though, was a red kite which flew low over my head and over the broad in front of Reception Hide. Sadly, I left my camera inside the hide, a very foolish mistake!

Monday, 31 January 2022

New Year, New Bird

 Jan 3rd Cley

My first outing of 2022 and it was a trip to Cley with my parents. This year, I wanted to photograph as many birds I've haven't got a decent photo of yet and there happened to be one at Cley. An Iceland gull had been hanging around the reserve for most of the winter, but I've yet to find it. This pale brown-white juvenile gull is part of a species that's not only new for me to photograph, but also for me in general. Iceland gulls have been eluding me for years and I was really hoping to scratch it off my bucket list once and for all.

This winter visitor, the size of a herring gull but paler, was apparently seen somewhere on the beach. I was tipped off that it was near the East Bank side of the reserve, so that's where I started my search first. Once I reached the shelter at the far end of the East Bank and after a quick scan, I managed to spot the gull feeding on a dead seal pup on the shingled ridge along the beach from afar. A few minutes later and I was able to not only reach the bird, but to get extremely close to it without spooking it. The gull was so focused on feeding that it wasn't interested in us at all and I got many photos. It may only be a gull, but I was so happy to have seen one at long last. Though I was a tad sad for the dead seal.

Iceland Gull (Jan 3rd), Shag (Jan 9th)
Frosty scene & Bittern (Jan 12th)

A view from East Bank and a visit to the central hides revealed wigeon, teal, shovelers, shelducks, marsh harriers, curlews, redshanks, dunlins, lapwings, brent geese, pink-footed geese, black-headed gulls, black-tailed godwits, avocets, ruff, herring gulls, linnets and heard a skylark. Not a bad haul to start my 2022 bird list with.

Jan 5th Strumpshaw Fen

The first shift at Strumpshaw 2022 and it was definitely eventful. It was very frosty and I managed to slip over on the way to the reserve. Then on arrival, I discovered that half the reserve was flooded. I couldn't even get to Fen Hide let alone to Tower Hide With both hides out of the question, I was forced to walk to the pumphouse and the woods. Not the best of walks as it was a bit muddy. The woods were far more productive than anywhere else with siskins, redwings and a muntjac deer.

At Reception Hide, it was fairly windy and cold and, for the most part, empty with bird life besides a few gadwall, marsh harriers and 2 mute swans. But then an otter appeared and made things more exciting for half an hour. It spent most of the time hunting, diving and pouncing in the broad until it swam out of sight down the far left channel. Also seen today: a great spotted woodpecker, 4 shelducks, a kestrel, buzzards, a heron, a song thrush and marsh tits.

Jan 9th Whitlingham Broad

I heard that a shag was hanging around Whitlingham Broad recently. Kind of an odd bird to be seen this close to Norwich as this smaller cousin of the cormorant is normally a sea bird. I was very curious so I went to have a look.

From the car park, I walked counter-clockwise around the Great Broad and it didn't take long until I found the bird I was looking for. It was sitting on the floating nesting platform with a cormorant and 3 juvenile gulls. Thanks to the cormorant being there, I was able make the comparisons. The shag is slightly shorter, has a rounder head and looks smaller overall (shorter bill, etc). I was really surprised that I was able to identify it so easily and find it so quickly.

Also seen were; large numbers of tufted ducks and coots, gadwall, moorhens, greylags, Egyptian geese, mallards, a feral barnacle goose, a grey heron, calling buzzards, shovelers, common gulls and black-headed gulls.

Jan 12th Strumpshaw Fen, Buckenham Marshes, Martham, Ludham & Hickling Broad/Stubbs Mill

This was to be a long day and I almost missed part of it due to my phone failing to wake me up! Thankfully and gratefully, Mum gave me a lift to Strumpshaw early enough that I still had time for my morning walk there before my shift started. Though I did hear some bearded tits, all I saw was a beautiful frosty landscape.

During my shift at Reception Hide, there were plenty of ducks on the broad, mostly mallards, gadwall, shovelers and a few teal, greylags and 3 coots. The real highlight though was a bittern flying from the reed bed on my near left to land in full view in the reed islands and later showed itself properly in the open in the strimmed section of the islands before flying off.

At the end of my shift, I began an afternoon bird tour with my Reception Hide colleague, Tricia. Starting at Buckenham for the Taiga bean geese, but failed to find any. We did, however drove past a hare along the way here.

Next up was a field in Martham. Here, we found a couple of cattle egrets following some cows and sheep that were grazing in this field. They were fairly close and were fully invested in what the livestock were disturbing than on us being on the other side of the fence.

Cattle Egret, Whooper & Bewick's Swans
Cranes & Sunset (Jan 12th)

A short drive later, we arrived to Ludham airfield in which a large gathering of swans were grazing. They mostly Bewick's (possibly 50+) with about 10 much larger whooper swans. Always a treat to see these beautiful winter swans while small aircraft flew by them all.

After seeing a second hare by the roadside while back on the road, we reached our final stop on our tour. We arrived at Hickling Broad in time before the main event could begin. Tricia wanted us to experience the raptor roost at Stubb's Mill together. There was a bit of a long, muddy walk to the mill, but had some good views of the flooded pools full of wildfowl along the way. Once we got to the viewing platform, we found a spot amongst the many others armed with scopes, binoculars and cameras and waited for the sun to set.

While the sky glowed into reds and golds behind us, we watched the marsh harriers come into roost in the field in front of us that was gradually fading into darkness with every passing minute. There was possibly 30+ harriers, but I wasn't really counting. I was busy scanning for a much rarer cousin, a hen harrier. With the last bit of light, I managed to glimpse the light grey of a male with it's jet black wingtips just visible before the bird vanished within some reeds. Unfortunately, the light was too poor and the sighting was so brief that I was unable to get that photo for my bucket list.

Not only did we see the hen harrier and the many marsh harriers, we also had 9 cranes fly over towards their roost site and we heard a tawny owl hoot. It was a great end to a great day of bird watching. My only regret was not getting that photo of the hen harrier like I was hoping for.

Jan 13th Catton Park

Walking round my local park, I heard drumming great spotted woodpeckers, a nuthatch and stock doves in the woods. I then found a buzzard in a tree that then dived down in front of a shrub and caught a vole before landing in a different tree to feast on it. A moment later, 4 fieldfare surprised me by flying over my head to land in the same tree the buzzard was in previously. The low sun was right in my eyes to see them properly and they flew off before I could move into a better position. This was the first time I've seen fieldfares at this park.

Jan 19th Strumpshaw Fen

A fairly quiet morning at Strumpshaw. Fen Hide produced only a few marsh harriers and 3-4 Chinese water deer, while at Reception Hide had 10 coots (first time in a long while), a few gadwall, mallards and greylags. The feeders outside attracted a great spotted woodpecker and 2 collared doves, which is a surprising rarity at the reserve as I don't see them here that often. When I got back into Norwich, I could see a peregrine falcon on the top of the spire of the cathedral as I waited for a bus home.

Jan 21st Sculthorpe Moor

I went with Dad to check out the new changes at Sculthorpe. There's a new path route into the reserve and one of two new hides open with the other to be open later this year. There was a bit of work going on during our visit, promising some exciting further changes to this fairly young reserve. The new changes that were available now were a mix bag. The new path was a far better way in than the country road that was the main way in before. The new hide, on the other hand, still needs some work. The windows were too small for my liking and the view seemed to be still in development.

The real interesting stuff were on the main, original area of the reserve. From the blind overlooking some feeders produced a bank vole, siskins, bramblings and the first of many bullfinches of the day. The Woodland Hide was also very productive with 2 muntjac deer, a great spotted woodpecker, a pheasant, greenfinches, blackbirds, dunnocks, robins, chaffinches, blue and great tits and redwings (in the trees above).

Moon & Sunrise (Jan 19th) Brambling,
Bullfinch, Muntjac Deer
& Long-tailed Tit (Jan 21st), White Chaffinch (Jan 29th)

On the way to the next hide, a red kite was flying over a treeline where a buzzard was sitting in. We then had lunch inside Whitley Hide while watching 4 muntjacs (one being a young fawn), 3-4 pheasants, several collared doves, a female reed bunting, mallards and 2 grey squirrels as well as the usual common birds such as robins, chaffinches, etc, all feeding from or under the 2 bird tables. The Canopy Hide is possibly our favourite hide with its bird table close to the window and attracting about 10+ species, including nuthatches, bullfinches, long-tailed tits, a marsh tit and a male reed bunting. 

The final 2 hides didn't provide us much to see, except a red kite and some very distant lapwings in a field. We went back to 2 of the previous hides for one last look over before heading back to the car, seeing a mistle thrush in the trees bordering the car park. It was a great visit, leaving us with a large list of species. If you want somewhere to get very close to bullfinches, this is THE place!

Jan 26th Strumpshaw

A large flock of perhaps 100 or so siskins welcomed me on the way to Strumpshaw as the trees were alive with a cacophony of twittering that blended together into quite a din. Then they erupted into the air and circled above my head into an incredible sight. Not the first group of birds to do so that morning as a little earlier on the way from Brundall, thousands of rooks and jackdaws also did the same as they streamed over me from their roost site in Buckenham.


Other than that, the rest of the morning wasn't as eventful. There were 2 mute swans, marsh harriers and a Chinese water deer and heard some pinging bearded tits at Fen Hide and to add to that, 20 or so gadwall, 10+ coots, 6 greylags and a few mallards at Reception Hide and that was as good as it got. It was such a freezing, cold morning that I just couldn't wait to get back home and warm up.

Jan 29th Waterloo Park

The RSPB's Big Garden Bird Watch weekend has returned for its 53rd year in which you spend an hour watching your garden and record the birds that appear in that hour. I don't have a garden myself, so I went to my local park to help out with an event that was promoting this annual survey. The Friends of Waterloo Park and the RSPB has joined forces and set up several stalls at the centre of the park. I was helping out at the RSPB gazebo overlooking some trees full of bird feeders. 

The feeders were attracting many birds. A lot of them being finches. Greenfinches and goldfinches were well represented here. However, the star bird was a leucistic chaffinch. An unusually white chaffinch. It was so white that the local residents living nearby were mistaking it for a snow bunting. Every time it showed up, it really stood out like a sore thumb. It was a very beautiful individual.

Jan 30th Norwich

As I didn't have a garden myself, I walked over to my parent's house to do the survey instead. They were away for the weekend, so I had the place to myself. There were more birds outside their garden than in it, but between 9:42 and 10:42 I recorded 4 blackbirds, 1 blue tit, 1 robin, 1 woodpigeon and 1 dunnock.