Friday, 30 April 2021

The Quest For Bird 100

 April 5th Whitlingham Broad

The end of March was very summer-like with what was like a mini heatwave. The start of April was the complete opposite as it became winter again with light snow and hail showers and strong chilly winds. A very strange time to look for spring migrants at Whitlingham Broad. I began the month on 90 species of bird on my Norwich year list, needing only 10 more for my 100th. Could anything be arriving in these wintery conditions, I wondered. However, within the first few minutes of scanning the broad, that I was in for quite a surprise. Flying over the broad in great numbers was a swarm of swallows, house and sand martins. Three species that recently travelled from the heat of Africa only to arrive into Arctic-like conditions. How alien must it feel to them? 

My list grew to 93 already and after I turned from the view of the hirundine (that's the family swallows and martins are from) swarm, I made it 94. Amongst the swans, ducks and geese that hang around near the car park area was a male mandarin duck. I've never encountered this exotic bird here before despite hearing it regularly comes in to roost most days. Despite being non-native, I was delighted to add it to my list. A chilly walk around the broad later, we met up with another birdwatcher who pointed out my 95th bird out on the broad. Actually, it was two, as two kittiewakes floating on the broad's surface that appeared similar to that of the sea these birds were more accustomed to. I've never thought I'd find these gulls this close to Norwich. It left me with 5 more to go and the month had only just begun. Other highlights of this visit included a kingfisher, siskins, buzzards, great crested grebes and tufted ducks.

Mandarin & Kittiewake (April 5th) and Spoonbill (April 11th)

April 9th Thorpe Marshes

On the day that Prince Philip died, I was out at Thorpe Marshes wading through ankle-height flood water. That's right, it had flooded again. And though the floods weren't as bad as it was over winter, I still went home with some damp pair of boots. At least the weather was warmer, though it did end up drizzling with rain. On the plus side, I did hear my first willow warbler of the year, making it 96 species. I also heard sedge warblers, blackcaps, chiffchaffs and a water rail and saw a few swallows, 3 buzzards, a little gull, 2 courtship displaying great crested grebes, an oystercatcher, a heron, tufted ducks, teal and gadwall.

April 11th Cley

For the first time since December, I was finally out of Norwich. With lockdown restrictions easing, I was allowed to visit the coast without the fear of being handed a fine. Cley was technically still closed to the public and was a day away from actually doing so, but you could still could use the car park and walk to the beach. As Mum and I made our way to the beach via the East Bank, the weather suddenly became Arctic-like with icy winds blasting us, causing our faces to feel numb, followed by rain, then hail and then sleet with large snowflakes. We took refuge in the shelter at the opposite end of the East Bank feeling cold and wet. A short while later, it became bright, warm and cheerful again. 

Bird-wise, we had a relatively close encounter with a spoonbill as well as seeing avocets, redshanks, dunlin, 2 ringed plovers, shelducks, rooks and a host of other birds that were already on my Norwich list. Because we were far from the city, these 7 mentioned birds can not go on my official list, but I will include them to an extension list (a side list in other words). So I'm technically on 103 birds seen or heard this year, but only the 96 city species count.

April 16th Thorpe Marshes

A week since my last visit to Thorpe, the floods had completely dried up (which made me feel foolish for wearing wellies this time). However, it was a fairly disappointing visit as there wasn't anything new to add other than a couple of sedge warblers, 2 kingfishers, an oystercatcher, 2 little egrets, tufted ducks, great crested grebes, buzzards and a lot of gulls.

April 19th Norwich and Mousehold Heath

My 4th dawn chorus walk of the year was highly interesting. I decided that my walk for April would be along the River Wensum, taking me through the city before heading north to Mousehold Heath. Basically a big circuit looping back to my flat. I arrived at New Mill Yard at 5:20am, listening to blackbirds, robins, wrens, blue tits and a possible redwing along the way. It was light enough to see when I got to the mill and I was greeted by the sound of a singing grey wagtail. It took a while to actually spot it sitting on the lower side of the river wall. I saw another one further along by Fye's Bridge as well as 2-3 kingfishers, a pair of Egyptian geese with a gosling, a cormorant and several lesser black-backed gulls.

After success along the river, I moved on uphill to Mousehold. Blackcaps and chiffchaffs added their voices to the chorus with the more regular common woodland birds, including drumming woodpeckers. Sadly, there were no willow warblers as I was hoping. On top of that, the majority of the gorse bushes looked rather brown and dead. A very sad sight that reminded me of bleached coral reefs due to global warming. There just haven't been enough rain to keep these bushes green and yellow. A slight downer to what was a great dawn chorus walk, especially while by the river.




April 21st Whitlingham Broad

One group of birds I'd thought I'd see by now were terns. I was starting to wonder when they would show up. So, on this walk around the broad, I was very happy to finally see some sitting on buoys and flying over the water. I think they were mostly all common terns, but there was at least one that seemed to be bigger with longer tail streamers. Could this be an Arctic tern? I know that they have pure red bills and common terns have a black tip to theirs, but I just couldn't get a clear enough view to be certain. I felt it was safer not to include it to my list. 

While the terns were causing me headaches over which was which, there was at least one new addition that was nice and simple to identify with complete confidence. Whitethroats have arrived and I found a couple that were singing their scratchy ditty during this visit. I also came across the Mandarin duck, sedge, willow and Cetti's warblers, swallows, house and sand martins, chiffchaffs, blackcaps, a kingfisher, tufted ducks, great crested grebes, linnets and a heron. A very productive morning, though rather chilly due to a strong, blustery wind.
Common Tern & Little Gull (April 21st) and Crane (April 28th)


April 22nd Mousehold Heath

For the first time since 2019, I helped out Will the Mousehold Heath warden with a bird survey. Around the pitch and putt side of the heath, we noted down on a map all the birds we hear or see and any nest sites we find. Blue and great tits, robins and wrens dominated the survey with blackbirds, blackcaps, chiffchaffs, greenfinches, chaffinches, long-tailed tits, coal tits and the odd dunnock, goldcrest, treecreeper, buzzard, kestrel, and house sparrow also recorded. We also found a sparrowhawk nest site with both adults making a lot of movement in a pine tree and we encountered 4 muntjac deer.

April 23rd Thorpe Marshes

A third visit to Thorpe this month and an improvement to the week before as I heard my 99th bird. Making my way over the railway pedestrian bridge, I instantly heard the distinctive reeling of a grasshopper warbler! These birds are very elusive to see, so I was happy to just hear one at least. At least the whitethroats and sedge warblers were more showy. 

I was hoping to see more terns here, but in the end only one common tern appeared amongst the large gathering of gulls over the broad. Also seen were reed buntings, linnets, mute swans, greylags, Canada geese, 2 lapwings, Cetti's warbler, a great crested grebe swallowing a large fish, tufted ducks, gadwall, teal, a few ducklings and a stock dove.

April 26th Catton Park

Not much to add from the park this month, though I think I heard a whitethroat that was singing in extremely brief outbursts that lasted about a second before going silent again. Buzzards, sparrowhawks, a kestrel and 2 greylags (flying high over) and the yaffle of a green woodpecker were the only main highlights. On the plant side of things, I found a patch of few-flowered garlic that smelt heavily of onions and in the woods, the bluebells are starting to bloom while the wood anemones are now wilting.

April 28th Strumpshaw Fen

Since the end of December, I'm finally back at Strumpshaw. However, I'm only here as a visitor and not as a volunteer. It will be another couple of weeks until I can resume my duties here again. For now, I wanted to do the Strumpshaw 45 challenge I had made a tick sheet for and had planned on doing since the first lockdown last year to celebrate Strumpshaw's 45th anniversary. Just like 5 years ago when we were celebrating the reserve's 40th, I will be searching for the original 40 species I had to find plus 5 more that I have chosen myself. Unlike last time though, I will not try to photograph them all and will just tick them off if I've either seen or heard them.

My Strumpshaw 45 tick sheet  and Common Lizard
Better late than never, I made up for lost time and ticked off 15 of them. These 15 were; jay, marsh tit, water rail (heard only), marsh harrier, goldcrest, Cetti's warbler, teal, Chinese water deer, candlesnuff fungus, scarlet elfcap fungus, water flea (the water of the ponds we so clear that I didn't need to scoop them out to see them), a hobby, great crested grebe, common lizard and ash tree. I left with a great haul, but there were a few bonuses. I startled a grass snake in the woods, heard reed, sedge, Cetti's and willow warblers, saw a whitethroat, swallows and house martins, common terns and, best of all, a crane that flew in front of the Reception Hide and were heard bugling across the reserve. It was good to be back and I can't wait to return to my voluntary duties in time for the swallowtail season.

April 30th Earlham Marsh, Earlham Park & The U.E.A Lake

A rather damp end to the month as I went for a walk around Earlham Marsh, Earlham Park and the U.E.A Lake on my own. As I started my walk into the marshes after being dropped off, it began to rain and continued doing so until after I left for home. The marshes (in which the large pools have now disappeared into muddy marshland) provided most of the bird action of the day, but nothing new to give me my 100th bird. The best I got were 2 little egrets, reed buntings, sedge warblers, swallows and house martins, mallards, mute swans and a moorhen on a nest. I tried really hard to seek for any waders and searched every tree, etc near the marshes and also in the park for little owls, but found nothing. The U.E.A lake had a couple of common terns, swallows and great crested grebes with 4 chicks. 

Plant List Update

And so, here is where my plant list comes to an end. I have made a full year (more or less) of plant hunting around Norwich. There isn't too much to add that I haven't found from last year at this point. The cherry trees near my flat are bright pink with blossom, leaves are starting to appear on most of the trees in my neighbourhood and bluebells are blooming everywhere now. Other than the few-flowered garlic, I've found honesty, cowslip, primroses, groundsel, ground ivy and forget-me-nots.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Birthdays & Birds

 March 1st Whitlingham Broad

An early evening walk around the broad in the fading light provided 2 new species for my list to kick off March with. From the river, I could see a flock of shovelers feeding on the edge of the lake of Thorpe Marshes and sleeping on the floating platforms of Whitlingham Broad were two oystercatchers. I also saw siskins, herons, cormorants, little and great crested grebes and the usual wildfowl.

March 4th Norwich

I had a surprise phone call from my friend David who lives around the corner from me. He was calling me because he had a black redstart outside his house. A couple of minutes after the call ended, I arrived on the scene and met up with him. It wasn't long until the bird itself was spotted posing on one of David's neighbour's roof. The bird was female with a more greyer plumage and an orange-red tail, bobbing and tail flicking like its cousin the robin. In Europe, these birds are common garden birds, but here in the UK, they are much scarcer and found more in industrial sites. I have seen black redstarts in the city centre of Norwich, but this is the first time I've seen one this close to home. A very special addition to my list.

Black Redstart (Top two - March 4th) & Stonechat (March 5th)

March 5th Thorpe Marshes

With the floods subsided and the mud dried up, it was a remarkable transformation since the last time I've visited Thorpe Marshes back in January. However, it was a bit of a less memorable visit this time around. Other than a few stonechats, there wasn't much around and nothing new for my list.

March 7th Marston Marshes

This was an eventful weekend. On Saturday (March 6th), my sister-in-law was rushed to hospital to have an emergency C-section and my second niece was born 6 weeks premature. Her name is Willow and will be in an incubator until she is big enough to leave. It was quite a shock when I heard the news and a bit worried for both mother and child. Due to the Covid restrictions, no one other than my brother can go see either of them.

For the time being, there was nothing I could do but to take my mind off things. The best medicine for that is birdwatching. Thankfully, I was told that a new scarce bird had arrived on the other side of the city for me to find. A Russian white-fronted goose was reported at Marston Marshes (a few days after a lesser white-fronted goose was seen at Whitlingham Broad), a very rare bird to be hanging around so close to a city. 

White-fronted Goose & Ring-necked Parakeet

I wasn't sure of where to go as it has been a long while since I've been to this place, but after meeting some helpful people, including a photographer, I was soon pointed in the right direction. I followed the stream until it met the river and met another photographer and the goose itself. This was the closest I've ever gotten to a white-fronted goose. Usually they are shy of humans and often distant, but this one was just standing there on the opposite side of the stream showing no fear of our presence. It seemed too easy! 

As well as the goose, there were a few ring-necked parakeets here (the second site in Norwich that I've discovered so far), a little egret, siskins, reed buntings, mistle thrush, a kestrel, buzzards and a red kite, which was really high and near the sun to the point where I could only make out the shape and briefly saw a fork in the tail, though not so obvious. Apparently, I missed out on a woodcock that was accidently flushed out of the undergrowth 15 minutes before I saw the goose. However, after some thinking through, I've came to a conclusion that I've seen one on Valentine's day flying past us over the frozen flooded marsh by Hellesdon Road and have decided to now include it to my list.

March 9th Mousehold Heath

For my 3rd lockdown dawn chorus walk of the year, I decided to change location. This time, I walked over to Mousehold Heath and arrived there as the darkness of night was beginning to fade just before 6am. The bird were already awake and in full voice. To begin with, the chorus was made up of song thrushes, blackbirds, wrens, robins, dunnocks, crows and woodpigeons. Then as it got brighter, other birds joined in such as blue, great and long-tailed tits, green woodpeckers, chaffinches, greenfinches, goldcrest, great spotted woodpeckers, jays, magpies, treecreepers and my first chiffchaff of the year. I also briefly saw a sparrowhawk fly over the Vinegar Pond and a peregrine sitting atop of the weathervane of the cathedral. It was a long but enjoyable walk full of birdsong. The only disappointment was that there were no frogs or frogspawn in the ponds yet.

March 11th Earlham Marshes & Earlham Park

It was my birthday, the first (and hopefully last) under lockdown conditions. As I was pretty limited with places to go and people to celebrate with, I ended up on a long walk around Earlham Marshes and Park with my dad. It was quite the contrast to the freezing conditions of our last visit to these marshes last month as the ice and snow has long since melted away. Instead, we had strong winds and a mix of rain and sunshine. With these blustery conditions, the hope of seeing the little owls I've been told roosting amongst the trees by the river was an expected no show. However, I did add one new species to my list for my birthday, a linnet that was singing in a tree. We also saw an oystercatcher, shovelers, teal, gadwall, mallards and a variety of gull species.

Linnet (Top left - March 11th), Common Frog & Siskin (March 19th)

The sun was out when we started our walk at Earlham Park, though the wind was ever persistent. There were a few really muddy paths too which reminded me of walking along the river trail at Strumpshaw in winter. We made our way to the UEA lake, seeing a kestrel, a sparrowhawk, an Egyptian goose, a great crested grebe and heard a nuthatch and chiffchaffs. I was expecting that I'd see rooks here, but I ended up seeing the four other common crow species instead. Where are Norwich's rooks at?

March 15th Catton Park

It was now a year since the first lockdown happened and I decided to complete my full year of monthly visits to my local patch. I have now experienced all the seasonal changes that happen in this park each month. The signs of spring were starting to show some sort of dominance now with blossom and crocuses. I spotted the odd redwing , which should start to think about heading back north again soon. I also found a nuthatch creeping along the trunk and branches of a couple of trees before vanishing, as well as a goldcrest and a coal tit.

March 16th Norwich

For the last few months now, I've been making several walks along the Wensum in the hope of finding grey wagtails, which I have seen here in the past. However, they are proving to be quite elusive and I'm actually having more luck with kingfishers than my actual main target. While out in the rain, I managed to encounter two of them by Fye Bridge. If I was at Strumpshaw, these birds would have been on everyone's wish list, but here in Norwich, no one seemed to pay them any attention or seemed to care. I found this very odd for such a well loved British bird.

March 17th Norwich & Whitlingham Broad

At around 9:30-ish in the morning, I was looking outside my flat's living room window when something caught my eye. A large bird was soaring over my neighbour's house across the road and was heading towards me. I thought it was a gull at first, but the colouring was darker, the wings longer and the tail had a forked appearance. What I was looking at was a red kite! Possibly the first seen in my neighbourhood! It was so sudden and I was so excited that I tripped on my slipper that I was wearing as I attempted to unlock my mobile to call David and almost fell to the floor. In the end, I was too late to call him and it seemed I was the only person to had seen it without a photo to show for it.

That afternoon, I went for a walk around Whitlingham Broad with Mum. No sign of any new spring migrants, but I did see another kingfisher perched on a bush along the river as well as the usual ducks, geese, swans, grebes and gulls.

March 19th Norwich

Bored and with it being too nice of a day not to be outside, I went for a long walk from my house to Hellesdon Mill via a tow path and Hellesdon Road. The mill was another place I remembered seeing grey wagtails in the past, but despite the effort of getting to the mill, the wagtail remained elusive. I didn't even find the resident parakeets along Hellesdon Road either. I did, however, find mating frogs, siskins, mute swans and mallards. 

March 22nd Thorpe Marshes

A second visit to Thorpe this month and still nothing new to add to my bird list. The best I could find were 2 oystercatchers, a little grebe, tufted ducks, gadwall, teal, cormorants, a great spotted woodpecker and various gull species and heard green woodpeckers and chiffchaffs.

March 24th Whitlingham Broad

After a dull, uninteresting morning, Mum suddenly came over to my flat and suggested if I wanted to be dropped off at Whitlingham out of the blue. Several minutes later and was making my way round the broad to the nature area. I had my first actual sighting of a chiffchaff (was only hearing them before) of the year as well as seeing the barnacle goose, tufted ducks, great crested grebes and the usual other wildfowl.

It was at this point while sitting on the bench overlooking the nature area when I met a birdwatching couple. We talked and they informed me about a flock of lesser redpoll that were feeding on the alder trees along the Little Broad. So, I made my way back to the spot, through swarms of mosquitos. After a short while searching, I eventually found the flock of between 10-20 birds by the small car park and though they moved around a lot, they pretty much stuck to the same few trees long enough for a few photos. This is a finch that often eludes me, so I was very happy to make this my 85th bird species to my Norwich list.

With success with the redpoll, I walked out from the small car park and onto the road to wait for Mum to pick me up. While waiting, I scanned the field nearby. In one of the oak trees on the opposite side, something caught my eye. A white blob was poking out of a hollow. It turned out to be a sleeping barn owl! This was clearly a favourite roosting spot. This was a nice unexpected sight on an unexpected visit to a place that is quickly becoming my replacement for Strumpshaw.
Lesser Redpoll & Barn Owl (March 24th), Wood Anemone (March 30th) and Little Gull (March 31st)

March 29th Norwich

After having an eye test, I popped over to the river by New Mill Road where grey wagtails were reported singing. I've checked this place many times already this year without any luck. But this time, the time I didn't bring my binoculars or camera with me, I actually found one at last. It had a nest in a hole in a wall by the river right beneath a demolition site of all places. There was a moment of peace before the diggers started up for me to enjoy the bird with my own eyes and ears. It even sat on top of one of the diggers to sing at one point. That's 87 birds now! On the way back home, I saw my first peacock, brimstone and comma butterflies of 2021.

March 30th Catton Park

One of my best walks around my local park for a while. Not only provided me with a new bird for my list (a blackcap), but also a couple of plants I've never seen at this park before. I was walking through the woods when I heard woodpeckers drumming. Following the sound, it led me to an area covered with small patches of large white flowers. These were wood anemones. Though more like patches than a carpet, it was still enough to get me excited as I've never actually seen them in Norfolk before (I've never really been looking for them). The woodpeckers had led me to something surprising. Above these flowers, I managed to find not just a great spotted woodpecker, but a green one too close together in the same tree!

 A little further on and I found another clump of white flowers. They were much smaller with leaves like grass. Using the plant app on my phone, it came to the conclusion that these were spring starflowers. I couldn't find it in my plant book, so I had to look it up on the internet and it is apparently a garden escapee that originates from South America. Also today, I saw stock doves, several butterflies and many chiffchaffs.

March 31st Thorpe Marshes

I wasn't intending to go out today, but with news that little gulls were showing up at Thorpe, I had to go! These gulls don't hang around for long, usually just passing through, so I wasn't expecting them to be there when I arrived. But... they were! Three of them to be exact, flying around the broad without seemingly wanting to land at least once. Their dark underwings made it easier to spot them as they circled around over and over. Not a bad bird to tick off, but it wasn't the only one as I heard a sedge warbler on the way to the benches overlooking the broad. That makes it 90 species now! Not a bad way to end the month on. I also saw linnets, a Cetti's warbler, reed buntings, tufted ducks, a heron, a buzzard and heard a green woodpecker.

Plant List Update

Spring is here and I'm now seeing plants I've already added before once again. Daffodils were now forming splendid displays across the city and by the end of March, so was the cherry blossom. I also found plenty of violets, lesser celandine, sallow, hyacinths, wood spurge, compact grape-hyacinths, colt's-foot, ivy-leaved speedwell, common chickweed, red deadnettle, daisy, dandelion, green alkanet and greater bittercress.

Monday, 8 March 2021

My 2021 Lockdown Bird List So Far...

As lockdown is continuing and so is my bird list, I thought it would be a good time to show you what I've got so far. Every bird that is listed below was either seen or heard from around Norwich from January until today. Some were just added in the last few days and I will talk about these findings another time. A couple of others, the woodcock and red kite, were seen but it took a while for me to decide to add them as I didn't get a good view of them at the time but have since thought over them and I'm now 100% certain that they were indeed what they were. I will add a date and location on some of the big highlights as well as the odd note here and there. The really common birds were seen in more than one place in Norwich and won't have any notes attached to them. Total species at this moment is 82!

  1. Mute Swan 
  2. Pink-footed Goose (Flying over my flat)
  3. Russian White-fronted Goose (March 7th, Marston Marshes)
  4. Greylag Goose
  5. Canada Goose
  6. Barnacle Goose (A lone feral, relatively tame bird at Whitlingham Broad)
  7. Egyptian Goose 
  8. Gadwall (Whitlingham Broad and Thorpe Marshes)
  9. Teal (Whitlingham Broad and Thorpe Marshes)
  10. Mallard
  11. Shoveler (Thorpe Marshes)
  12. Pochard (Whitlingham Broad)
  13. Tufted Duck (Whitlingham Broad and Thorpe Marshes)
  14. Scaup (Feb 6th, Whitlingham Broad)
  15. Goldeneye (Jan 31st & Feb 17th, Whitlingham Broad)
  16. Smew (Feb 13th, Whitlingham Broad)
  17. Pheasant (Feb 14th, Hellesdon Road)
  18. Little Grebe (Feb 17th, Whitlingham Broad)
  19. Great Crested Grebe (Whitlingham Broad)
  20. Grey Heron
  21. Little Egret (Whitlingham Broad and Marston Marshes)
  22. Cormorant
  23. Red Kite (March 7th, Marston Marshes, flying really high up near the sun and took a while to decide completely)
  24. Sparrowhawk
  25. Buzzard
  26. Kestrel
  27. Peregrine (Norwich Cathedral)
  28. Water Rail (Whitlingham Broad, heard only)
  29. Moorhen
  30. Coot
  31. Oystercatcher (March 1st, Whitlingham Broad)
  32. Lapwing (Feb 14th, Earlham Marshes and Hellesdon Road)
  33. Snipe (Feb 14th, Hellesdon Road)
  34. Woodcock (Feb 14th, Hellesdon Road, after much thinking over as it flew past me so quickly)
  35. Curlew (Feb 14th, Hellesdon Road)
  36. Black-headed Gull
  37. Common Gull
  38. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  39. Great Black-backed Gull (Feb 17th, Whitlingham Broad)
  40. Herring Gull
  41. Yellow-legged Gull (Jan 28th, Wensum Park)
  42. Rock Dove/ Feral Pigeon
  43. Stock Dove
  44. Woodpigeon
  45. Collard Dove
  46. Ring-necked Parakeet (Jan 30th & March 7th, Hellesdon Road and Marston Marshes)
  47. Tawny Owl (Heard only)
  48. Kingfisher (Surprisingly everywhere from Whitlingham Broad to the River Wensum in the city centre)
  49. Green Woodpecker (Catton Park)
  50. Great Spotted Woodpecker
  51. Magpie
  52. Jay
  53. Jackdaw
  54. Carrion Crow
  55. Blue Tit
  56. Great Tit
  57. Coal Tit
  58. Long-tailed Tit
  59. Skylark (Heard only at Sprowston Park & Ride car park)
  60. Cetti's Warbler (Whitlingham Broad, mostly heard but caught a glimpse)
  61. Goldcrest
  62. Wren
  63. Nuthatch (Heard only at Catton Park)
  64. Treecreeper (Catton Park)
  65. Starling
  66. Blackbird
  67. Song Thrush
  68. Redwing (everywhere this winter!)
  69. Mistle Thrush
  70. Robin
  71. Black Redstart (March 4th, around the corner from my flat!)
  72. Stonechat (Feb 14th & March 5th, Earlham Marshes & Thorpe Marshes)
  73. Dunnock
  74. Pied Wagtail
  75. Meadow Pipit (Feb 14th, Hellesdon Road)
  76. House Sparrow
  77. Chaffinch
  78. Greenfinch
  79. Goldfinch
  80. Siskin (Whitlingham Broad, Thorpe Marshes and Marston Marshes)
  81. Bullfinch (Feb 6th, Whitlingham Broad, heard briefly)
  82. Reed Bunting 
And that's my list as of now. A few surprising species that apparently appeared but I missed include; bittern, pintail, common cranes (flew over the city), Bewick's swans (also apparently flew over), black-necked grebe and lesser white-fronted goose. I know there's possibly a few others I haven't found yet or knew about, so feel free to let me know or give me any locations to their whereabouts to help me out. Let's see if I can reach 100 species by the summer.

Sunday, 28 February 2021

The Month of Love (For Birds)

 Feb 2nd  Norwich

With lockdown continuing on into February, it meant that for the second month of 2021 I had to rely on the city for my wildlife fix once again. My bird list was at 57 species by the end of January and and my hunger for adding more birds to the list was growing as much as the list itself was. Covid was just background noise. All I could think of were birds and where to find them. I was becoming an urban birdwatcher, constantly listening out for something I haven't heard yet and scanning every tree as best I can. I couldn't believe how many species I've seen already within the boundaries of Norwich, including things like parakeets that I had no idea could be found here.

After an appointment with my osteopath, I went for a walk around the city centre, mainly along the river. I was hoping to find grey wagtails, but they proved to be quite elusive. However, I did spot a peregrine perching half way up the cathedral spire. I expect that they are now starting to pair up and preparing for their latest clutch of eggs. I haven't really been following their progress in previous years. All I know is that they have been quite successful since a pair first nested there 10 years ago. Back then, it was the first time in a very long time (about a century, if I remember rightly) and the fact that peregrines are still breeding here just proves how much of a success story they really are. The peregrines at Norwich Cathedral have became local celebrities, attracting thousands of people interested in their latest chapter every year. The Hawk and Owl Trust have done a great job monitoring them and you can check out a livestream on the nest box on their website. https://hawkandowltrust.org/web-cam-live/norwich-cathedral-side

Peregrine (Feb 2nd) and Scaup (Feb 6th)
Feb 5th Sprowston

I was dropped off at the Sprowston Park and Ride car park after food shopping with my mum. I wanted to check out if any 'rural' birds still lingered here where the city is still growing into the countryside. Despite the busy traffic drowning out most of the birds, I was still able to hear a skylark or two singing somewhere high in the sky. I remember seeing fieldfares at the nearby Sprowston Hotel when I was once a member for the pool and so I had a quick sneaky peek by the entrance this morning to seek them out. There was a large mixed flock of thrushes gathered behind their lake such as redwings, mistle thrushes and song thrushes. I believe that fieldfares are there too, however I couldn't get a good look at them, so I'm leaving them off the list for now. On a ploughed field on the opposite side of the road, I was hoping for pheasants or something of the likes, but could only spot a few stock doves and woodpigeons.

Feb 6th Whitlingham Broad

A scaup had me back at Whitlingham on a very miserable day. I was told that a 1st winter female had been seen in the last few days hanging with the tufted ducks on the broad. The thing is, female scaups look a lot like female tufted ducks. A very daunting challenge, especially when it is pouring with rain and got rather misty. However, scaup are slightly bigger and with a more rounded head. This information really helped me out when I eventually found it in the wildlife friendly corner of the broad. This was a massive tick for me as scaup are scarce winter visitors to the UK and I've only seen a handful in my lifetime.

As well as the scaup, I also added pochard to my list as well as audible additions of reed bunting and bullfinch, which I only heard a couple of notes before it went silent and couldn't locate it. A large flock of siskins were feeding on alder cones (but try as I might, I couldn't find anything in the likes of brambling or redpoll), a redwing and a brief flyby over the river of a kingfisher. It turned out to be a very successful day worth getting absolutely soaked to the bone for.

Feb 10th Catton Park

My 2nd dawn chorus of 2021 couldn't had been any more different to January's. A snow storm had hit for a few days and I decided to experience this latest dawn chorus in it to see if the birds were as active. I arrived at the park at the same time as before and seemed to be a lot more darker to begin with. Only the robins and the odd song thrush was in voice at this point. 

As I waited for the light to improve, I was suddenly hit by a short snow flurry that hit me like a blizzard. As sudden as it appeared, it was soon over and the birds took advantage of this break in the weather to sing. It was like someone flipping a switch as I could now hear blue tits, dunnocks, chaffinch, stock doves, blackbirds, a nuthatch and a green woodpecker and in the woods, I had great views of treecreepers. It wasn't as good as January's chorus and I was filming it with a low battery as I forgot to charge my camera's battery, however, it was still an interesting experience nonetheless.





Feb 12th Norwich

Returning home from a night at work, I was about to open my front door when I heard a short hoot from a tawny owl. Though I didn't see it, that brief hoot was enough for me to add to this owl to my list.

Feb 13th Whitlingham Broad

Another Saturday morning at Whitlingham. No rain this time, but a lot of snow and ice on the ground. It was freezing and slippery in places, but at least it was a nice day. I was in search of another duck, a pintail. Sadly, I was a couple of days too late. However, it was now replaced by yet another scarce duck, a female smew. Thanks to a few local birdwatchers, I was quickly on it pretty early on during my latest visit and was able to see it on the other side of the broad.

A bittern was also reported showing well on standing out on the ice at the wildlife area of the broad. I went to see and passed someone who confirmed that it was still in good view. A couple minutes later, I reached the spot and... IT WAS GONE! I was so close to add bittern to my list! It was one of those 'should have been here a few minutes ago' moments. The only other new thing for my list were pochards.

Smew (Feb 13), Curlew and Snipe (Feb 14th)

Feb 14th Earlham Marshes & Norwich

It was Valentine's Day, but I was not looking for love, but birds instead. Dad and I went to visit Earlham Marshes for the very first time as I was told that little owls were apparently there sometimes and great white egrets have been overwintering there as well. Unfortunately, not this time. Ice dominated the landscape and it was freezing to hang around for too long in. A variety of gulls stood on the frozen surface of the lakes, but nothing that I could convert into a Caspian gull or anything of the like. But, I did manage to tick off a pair of stonechat, a displaying lapwing and a sparrowhawk to satisfy my species list.

We then moved on to the spot we saw the parakeets last month and focused on the flooded marshland between Hellesdon Road and the Marriott's Way. This landscape was also frozen over and had apparently attracted a few waders, a bit of a rarity this close to the city centre. Though waders are rare near the city, curlews are even rarer. So to find two of them feeding out on the frozen marsh, made me really happy indeed. It turned out that this place was a bit of a goldmine as it provided 3 other species to my ever growing list with meadow pipits, pheasants and snipe. We also had a little egret, heard the parakeets again and I'm pretty sure a woodcock flew past us, though I could be wrong and was just a snipe.

Feb 17th Whitlingham Broad

After receiving my first Covid vaccine, I went for yet another visit to Whitlingham. A black-necked grebe was my latest target here, but was unable to find it. However, I did manage to add a great black-backed gull and about 6 or so little grebes as well as seeing a kingfisher and a female goldeneye, pochards, gadwall, tufted ducks, a heron, cormorants and great crested grebes. 

Feb 23rd Mousehold Heath & Norwich

A long walk around both sides of Mousehold Heath, seeing a kestrel, jays and the usual finches and tit species, then a short stop at St James' Hill, spotting 3 peregrines circling the cathedral and encountering a kingfisher as I made my return home via the river.

Feb 24th Whitlingham Broad

Mum surprised me with a trip to Whitlingham out of the blue. Nothing new for my list this time around, sadly.  However, it was a nice day and we saw siskins, tufted ducks, pochards, cormorants, gadwall, great crested grebes, a kingfisher and I had a brief glimpse of a Cetti's warbler.

Plant List Update

With spring around the corner, the year's first new plant species have been appearing recently. As I'm also continuing my lockdown plant list from last year as well as this latest bird one, I'm keeping one eye out for the latest blooms at the same time across the city of Norwich. Snowdrops, daffodils, a variety of crocus species, stinking hellebores, winter aconites, winter heliotrope, common whitlowgrass, corn salad and blackthorn are just some of the latest additions and I expect there will be a few more before I call quits on it in May, completing a full year. 


Sunday, 31 January 2021

A New Year, A New Lockdown, A New Challenge

 Jan 10th & 12th Catton Park

A new year, a new lockdown. 2021 hasn't started any better than how 2020 ended has it? We're pretty much back to how we were last spring but with the situation being much, much worse. Strumpshaw is once again closed and I am unable to volunteer once more. I was planning to do a new challenge to celebrate Strumpshaw's 45th anniversary, but that's now been scrapped (at least for the moment). 

After a week staying home, only going out for work and shopping, I had some time to think of a plan B. I have decided to do a local bird list for 2021. Just like my plant hunting of last year, the idea is to find as many species of bird within my city's borders. That means I can not include anything outside the city. Though my plant list will definitely be bigger than this bird list, it will still be interesting to see how many I can find. I can add them if I see or hear them, though seeing them would definitely be the better option. Of course, you are very welcome to let me know if you hear about a scarce bird that I didn't know about (I usually end up finding out a day later most of the time).

As I can't travel very far at the moment due to lockdown, I am restricted of places to go. My local park didn't fail to surprise me last year, so it seemed like the best place to start. And during two visits in the 2nd week of the month, it proved itself once again. In these two visits (and near my flat), I built my list with; kestrel, pink-footed geese (flying over), redwing, common gull, stock dove, buzzard, blackbird, carrion crow, jackdaw, magpie, jay, woodpigeon, collard dove, black-headed gull, blue tit, great tit, robin, long-tailed tit, great spotted woodpecker, wren, dunnock and feral pigeons. Not a bad start at all.

Kestrel (Jan 10th), Egyptian Goose & Barnacle Goose (Jan 13th) and Common Gull (Jan 15th)

Jan 13th Whitlingham Broad

Whitlingham Broad was to be the furthest place I've been to this year so far. Mum and I had a long walk around the main broad. Half of the track round it was fine, but the other half was extremely muddy. However, winter is a great time for birds here and there were plenty of new species to add to the list. Great crested grebe, pied wagtail, lesser black-backed gull, herring gull, greylag, Canada geese, Egyptian geese, a single barnacle goose, mute swan, gadwall, tufted duck, mallard, cormorants, coot, moorhen, a little egret and a grey heron, and I also heard kingfisher, siskins, Cetti's warbler and water rail. That's 43 species in one week.

Jan 15th-21st Norwich

Since Whitlingham, I had been exploring the city, mainly the parks and Mousehold Heath. On the 15th, I went for an afternoon walk along the Marriot's Way and to Wensum Park. I heard that there were a yellow-legged and Caspian gull here, both in their juvenile/2nd winter plumage. In other words, you have to be a real expert to distinguish them from the other gulls. Let's just say I took a few photos of the ones that could be them but left them off the list to be on the safe side. On the 17th, I visited Catton again a day after it snowed. Nothing of note in the end and the snow was reduced to tiny patches and boulders of snowman remains. On the 21st, I had a very muddy visit to Mousehold. Again, nothing new to add, but I did have an encounter with a low-flying buzzard and another with a large family of long-tailed tits.

Jan 25th Catton Park

For once a month this year, I want to add an extra challenge on top of my bird list challenge. I want to experience a dawn chorus for every month. I wanted to see what is like month by month and changes between the species. I want to find how it differs throughout the year.

 A dawn chorus in January was a chilly thought, so I really didn't know what to expect. It was a very frosty morning and I was glad to have worn a couple of layers before setting out to Catton Park. The thing about this time of year is that it is a good time to learn bird calls and songs as there are fewer species around compared to the spring when all the migrants arrive. At 7am, the birds were already beginning to find their voice as the darkness of night was fading away. Robins and wrens were the main singers at first with some blackbirds were making some alarm calls, but they were soon joined by song thrushes and woodpigeons. 

Minutes passed and I started hearing blue and great tits, goldfinches, a goldcrest, chaffinch, a buzzard and a green woodpecker. The light was improving by the minute and I now able to see the birds in more detail. I could now see the gulls fly above me as well as a kestrel and a jay. The park was looking like a winter wonderland with frost sparkling in the early morning light. It was chilly with the temperature below 0 and yet I was surprised to see so many people up and about walking their dogs. It didn't disturb the common gulls that flocked onto the icy field and the great spotted woodpeckers that I found drumming on the branches of one of the old oak trees. However, the dogs did disturb me and I decided to call it quits after one bounded up at me. On the way out though, a flock of redwings appeared and gave me some great views. It was a great first dawn chorus. It may not be the liveliest, but it sure had a lot of birds to experience. 






Jan 28th Wensum Park

Another attempt at the scarce gulls at Wensum Park. It was a bit drizzly, but at least this time I found one of them. Despite being called a yellow-legged gull, this one hadn't developed the correct colour just yet. Being a 2nd winter bird, its plumage wasn't fully developed into its adult feathers just yet either. At this point, it looks similar to a young herring gull. However, it looked different enough to draw my attention. I took a few photos of it and emailed it to someone I knew who would confirm that I found the correct bird. He replied and I was 100% correct with my gut feelings. (Thanks James!) 

Yellow-legged Gull and Ring-necked Parakeet


Jan 30th Norwich

I was informed that ring-necked parakeets were in Norwich by the Ring Road. I've seen them in London, but I never knew these exotic, colourful birds were even here until recently. After watching Norwich play out a 0-0 draw against Middlesbrough in a lunch time kick off, I went out with Dad to go look for them. It was a long and muddy walk as we ventured through a flooded tow path until we reached the possible area I was informed that they usually hang out. An area of tall trees sandwiched between a flooded part of the river Wensum and a built up area of houses and a road was echoing the squawking calls of a flock of at least 10 bright green parakeets that were restless at times, circling the buildings with a continuous noise. Even with the light fading into a dim fuzz, the bird's exotic colour was clearly visible. This was without doubt the most unusual addition to my list. A stand out encounter in the middle of a winter lockdown.

Jan 31st Norwich, Thorpe Marshes and Whitlingham Broad

It was the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch weekend this weekend and it is a great thing to do while being stuck at home during a lockdown. This is an annual survey to monitor the UK's garden birds. All you have to do is count the birds that visit your garden within an hour. That is pretty much it. Today, as I'm in a support bubble with my parents and I don't have a garden myself, I went to count their birds like I always do every year. Dad and I did our hour this morning and counted; 2 blue tits, 2 dunnocks, 1 blackbird, 1 woodpigeon, 1 great tit, 1 starling and 1 greenfinch as well as 2 redwings that we couldn't include as they were just refused to enter our garden.

After lunch, Dad and I went out to Thorpe Marshes in the hope of adding more birds to my list. I was told to bring wellies and for good reason. It was flooded! Half the reserve was underwater and the other completely muddy. As I was the only one between the two of us with wellies, I had to go it alone. Surprisingly, there were a lot of families out here for a walk. You had to get through 2 small flooded sections to even attempt a walk where it is just manageable. They seemed as crazy to bring their kids and walk their dogs here as much as I am to birdwatch. The rewards wasn't that great either as I only managed to add a flock of teal to the list. The rest are what I've already seen at Whitlingham a couple of weeks ago.

It was a slow slog back through the mud and water. Thankfully, the water washed away the mud from my wellies, so I didn't have to clean them off when I got home. However, we weren't going home just yet. Our final destination of the day was at Whitlingham as I was told that a Mandarin duck comes in to roost at the main broad. Not only that, but also a great white egret does too. Sadly though, despite waiting until it got too dark to see, neither bird showed up. But there were a couple of constellations, a kingfisher perching right by the shore in front of us and a spectacular male goldeneye amongst the large roosting raft of tufted ducks out in the centre of the broad. Not what I was hoping for, but still a great way to end an eventful month of extremely local birdwatching.




Thursday, 31 December 2020

My 2020: Review Of The Year

 Let's face it, 2020 was a bad year for all of us. The pandemic has dominated everyone's lives. Either by getting the symptoms yourself, losing a loved one by it or even your job because your business has shut down due to the lockdowns that are in place to reduce the spread of the virus. There's also other things that makes 2020 a year to forget, such as the race riots. But while the world has been fallen apart, I have been trying to keep my mind from thinking about it all and try to distract myself with as much wildlife as I could in such circumstances. So here's how my 2020 went down...

January

It all started quite well. It was a new year and a new decade. The virus was still far away in China to make any impact on my life. I was more interested in starting my new challenge in finding and photographing bird species that I missed over the years. January was a great month for me as I had encounters with a ferruginous duck at Ranworth Broad, a field full of cranes outside Acle and a Slavonian grebe at Wroxham Broad. However, my thoughts weren't completely on birds that month as my granddad was taken into hospital due to heart problems. He spent a few months in hospital, but I'm glad to say that he's made a full recovery since then, at least for now.

February

February was the last full month before the coronavirus outbreak reached the UK. For me, it was a month of owls. The real highlight was travelling to Ipswich by train to see a rather special bird. I had heard of a tawny owl that regularly roosts in a tree in a park there. Although I have seen tawny owls at night before around Norwich, I had never gotten a photo of one before. In Ipswich, this individual has became a local legend, with an owl roosting in the same tree every year since 2007. Though it did disappear in 2017, it returned in 2019 and it was back again this year. It felt rather special to finally see this bird sleeping in full view high up within a hollow of a tree. It was worth the trip as a Norwich City fan into enemy territory to see this beautiful owl.

The rest of the month included a great view of an otter that came out onto land to feast on a fish and a barn owl that landed extremely close to me along the path towards the pump house at Strumpshaw.

March

There was one last adventure before the chaos truly began. During the week of my birthday (March 11th), my parents took me on holiday to Dorset. Despite the weather being a mix bag of rain and sunshine, the week-long trip was fantastic and included a visit to Durdle Door (a famous picturesque sea arch), a spot of fossil hunting and a couple of days at RSPB Arne, where we had great encounters with Dartford warblers and Sika deer. By the end of our stay in Dorset, my adventure didn't end there as I was taken to the Forest of Dean to spend the weekend with a Naturetrek group. Though it was a short extension and the weather was for the most part made things awful with heavy rain showers and extremely muddy paths, my guide made sure my group saw some amazing wildlife that made this forest home. Wild boar with piglets, hawfinches, goshawks, peregrines, little owls, crossbills, ravens, we saw quite a lot of amazing things. However, the highlight had to be seeing my first ever great grey shrike.

The week after, lockdown was announced and when I returned to Strumpshaw, the reserve was yet to decide if to close or not. In the end, after an hour of my shift in Reception Hide, they had made the decision to close up. I had one last walk around the reserve, seeing a barn owl. It would be another 9 months until I could volunteer at Strumpshaw again. 

April-October

Lockdown brought a lot of restrictions in movement and a lot of boredom from not being able to go anywhere outside of Norwich. In April and early May, I didn't really do that much other than to go out for a walk around my local park or at Mousehold Heath. Spring was in the air and for the first time, I felt that I got to experience it and fully open my eyes to what wildlife I could find on my doorstep. Norwich was as wild as any nature reserve, just a lot more overlooked. There were green hairstreaks, green tiger beetles, green and great spotted woodpeckers, a cuckoo (at Thorpe Marshes) and I even heard a lesser whitethroat and a corncrake (also at Thorpe Marshes). I spent Dawn Chorus Day in my local park and it felt like it meant a lot more to me than previous years.

By mid-May, I decided to get into something I'm not at all an expert in; plants. Throughout the summer, I went exploring around the streets and parks and other places in and around the city limits. What I discovered was an amazing array of flora. From four species of orchid and scarcer species such as arrowhead and flowering rush to hare's-foot clover and sand spurrey. I ended up with a long list of plants that I never knew existed in my home city. I have a new appreciation for plants now and I was sad when the summer ended and my list grinded to a halt. 

As the restrictions relaxed and the first lockdown eased, I was allowed to travel further away from Norwich's boundaries. From swallowtails at Hickling Broad to a few visits to the coast to search for migrants at places like Cley and Titchwell. I even had a couple of trips to Strumpshaw for the first time in months. I experienced the strange new one-way route systems at some of these reserves and being inside a hide with a mask on. It was bird watching, but not how it used to be. Social distancing twitching at Wells Wood in September as we all crowded behind a fence and a couple of hay bales looking at a red-backed shrike was something I wouldn't forget.

In October, it was all about the spectacle of the autumn colours produced by the trees in my neighbourhood. The weather was awful though.

November and December

The final two months of 2020 were the least eventful as I barely went out. In November, a second lockdown was in place, but I did sneak in a couple of outings outside of the city. This included a trip to Titchwell where we got some strange looks but saw some great things from shimmering eruptions of golden plovers and a close encounter with a muntjac deer. While at Strumpshaw I discovered my first ever earthstar fungi.

Finally, in December, I was allowed back to volunteering at Strumpshaw since March. I was rewarded with bitterns, otters and a pintail. It was just great to be back, though it was weird helping inside the Reception Hide while obeying to the new social distancing rules and all the tape marking out where we had to stand and move around in. Just to be back and seeing the wildlife and the everchanging weather changing the landscape I was familiar with before the lockdowns, seeing all of it again made up for all the absent weeks I missed being here. And to top things off, I was rewarded with my 10 year service as an RSPB volunteer at Strumpshaw with a silver puffin badge, even though it is a few months early.

Now that Norfolk has entered Tier 4 (pretty much a 3rd lockdown), I'm unsure on how 2021 will be like. Will I ever be allowed to go on big birding outings again? Will I get the vaccine before I get the virus? Whatever happens, I'm sure that next year will be better than this one. Happy new year, everyone!

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

The Last Shift Of 2020

 Dec 30th  Strumpshaw Fen

Today is my last shift of 2020 and with the new Tier 4 system in place, I was unsure if I was allowed to return back to Strumpshaw at first. But after being told that it was my choice to make, I of course wanted to continue. When I arrived to the reserve this morning, though, I discovered that most of it was out of bounds. The hides were now closed once again and with high water levels, both routes along the river were extremely muddy. So my morning walk before my shift was very limited. All I could really do was walk to the river and back and around the woodland trail. There wasn't much to see either.

Receiving my silver puffin badge

When I returned for my shift at the Reception Hide, Ben showed up and gave me a large envelope. Inside was a certificate and two badges. One was the RSPB logo, the other was in a special box, a silver puffin. The silver puffin badge is only given to volunteers who serve 10 years for the RSPB. I was given this badge a little early than expected as next year marks my 10th anniversary at Strumpshaw. It was a special honour. A late Christmas present and a great way to end the year on.


It was a very cold day today and though the weather was good, there wasn't much to see outside of the Reception Hide. As it was very cold, I went for an extra walk in the woods to warm myself up a bit. At this point in the day, the bird life appeared to be more awake and very active. I stood by the Gnarly Oak for a few minutes and within those few minutes I was surrounded by hundreds of siskins, a few redwings, marsh tits, blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits, jays and a treecreeper. I tried to spot a redpoll amongst the siskins, but I just couldn't see any at all. On the way back, I had some great views of bullfinches posing well and singing proudly. When I returned back into the hide, the view remained empty other than a flock of sleepy mallards, 3 mute swans, marsh harriers and a sparrowhawk making a quick flyby. Apparently though, while I was on my walk in the woods, I had missed a bittern. Typical! 

Sunrise over the river, Siskin and Bullfinch