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.

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