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.

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