Archive for Apr, 2012


Cuckoos Everywhere

The Cuckoo Flower is so named because of its timely appearance when the bird of the same name returns to our shores. We didn’t see or hear a Cuckoo in Scotland on this year’s tours the unseasonably cold northerlies saw to that but we saw the banks of the Spey littered with the flowers on our last weekend.


Looking for Alice

While we were in the Scottish Highlands last weekend we saw a magical animal.

I love watching Hares at anytime but combine the moment with one that turns white in winter and adapts itself so well to its environment then they becomes irresistible. The Mountain Hare evades its nemesis, the Golden Eagle, by sitting motionless and becoming a rock. We found this one in an undisturbed part of the mountains. The only thing that gave it away was the neat row of footprints leading to its hiding place.


Snow Shower

The second of our April bird watching trips to Scotland was successfully concluded on Monday. We once again saw much.

A trip up the mountains for Ptarmigan was delightful. The weather is always fickle up there and even in midsummer the clouds can close in and indeed we were lucky to avoid the ‘birding in a milk bottle’ scenario of a heavy snow shower. We saw and photographed Ptarmigan but we also stumbled upon Snow Buntings. We are used to these little fellows in Norfolk of course but seeing them in their true environment was delightful.

We watched this cheeky minx bathing in the snow and then drying out in the wind.


The Ringing Sound of an Ouzel

As we descended from the high peaks of Perth and Kinross last week we heard a familiar call; a call of the mountain valleys and waterfalls. It was familiar as I normally hear the ‘chak chak’ of the Ring Ouzel as it passes through Norfolk on its way to and from its breeding grounds.

Within the steep valley I felt it was at home. This highland Thrush seemed comfortable and less restless as it appears on migration. We found this little chap sunning his silver wings between showers as he fed among the heather and moss.


Snowy Wheatears

Scotland had a heat wave earlier in April prompting migrants to move back to their breeding grounds. Last week northerlies rekindled the Caledonian winter and snowy skies once again moved over the Cairngorms.

The Wheatears had beaten us back to Scotland. They had left their North African wintering grounds and arrived back in the Scottish Glens and valleys a week before we got there. I wonder if the snow made them wish they had stayed in the warm sunshine. One little chap was even keen to share our picnic lunch … who were we to deny him?


A rich Carpet

As the sun hid and much needed rain gently swelled the soil the other day we walked and took shelter among trees. We shook the water from our coats and looked up straining our eyes for some distant blue patch of sky it was only then we became aware of a carpet of white beneath us. Beautiful Wood Anemones were bobbing their heads as drops of water fell from the canopy and splashed on the flowers, setting them in some sort of perpetual dance.


Poor Rogue

The Capercaille is a large grouse about the size of a Turkey; aggressive and brash. It couldn’t live anywhere else but Scotland could it?

Rare, elusive and enigmatic are other words that have been used to describe the ‘Horse of the Woods’ called so because of the guttural clopping, pops and whistles it makes when displaying sound like an approaching horse.

I was looking forward to showing a ‘Rogue Capercaille’ to the group last Sunday during the first of our Birding tours in Scotland this month. A ‘Rogue Caper’ is one that has lost all inhibition and displays to people, vehicles, dogs … in fact anything that happens to pass through the territory of this normally shy bird. They occur only occasionally and this individual had been around since last year. Thanks to Simon, our local contact and friend, I knew it had been seen the day before we visited.

As we walked among the true Caledonian Forest with that rich understory of heather mosses and shrubs we saw quite a large Trout in the talons of an Osprey flying directly over us, we had good views of a male Crossbill stood atop a pine and heard the occasional Crested Tit ‘piping-up’ under the calls of the Siskins. A Capercaille within touching distance would surely be the icing on the cake.

As we approached the area where the bird usually shows I could see a bundle of feathers aside the track. The bird had obviously been hit by a vehicle and had succumbed to the incident. Disappointment and frustration were just some of the emotions we all felt on seeing this travesty which was the undoubted low-point of our weekend. There are only some 1500 Capercaille in the whole of Scotland when not so long ago numbers had been twentyfold that figure. We cannot afford to lose any more to carelessness.

Although we did see other Capercaille this weekend I guess the death of the rogue is all part of life and the demise of this individual must be viewed in context but he will be sorely missed by the many who saw him. We laid him to rest away from the track in the forest; a fitting resting place for the Caledonian King.



As I walked from the front door into the garden on Wednesday I looked up to see the distinctive shape of a Red Kite. The bird flew strongly west followed by a Buzzard and then a Marsh Harrier. A raptor passage in North Norfolk was on the cards. Flat bottomed Cumulus clouds meant there were some strong thermals rising and the birds of prey were taking advantage; using them to move north and west along the coast.

Amid a cloud of Buzzards and Sparrowhawks we saw a larger paler bird. A Rough legged Buzzard on the move. Perhaps having wintered in the southern counties or even on the continent, the bird was now making a trek north to breed.

On the cliffs were a host of Wheatears and included within them a larger bolder bird – a ‘Greenland Wheatear’ resting before continuing its mammoth journey north to breed. The ‘chak chak’ of a Ring Ouzel gave away the presence of a pair in the hedgerow. Maybe these are the birds we will see in the Scottish Glens on the first of two April trips north at the weekend. I adore Ring Ousels; their neat white bibs and silver wings give a marked contrast to their otherwise jet plumage.

Waders are scarce in this part of Norfolk. There is little standing water to attract them here. As I stood against an irrigation pool I heard a small wader call above me. She flew down to take rest at the water’s edge. The little madam did not land at the far side of the water but close to me, close enough to grab a shot or two. She was in transitionary plumage; a ball of spots and streaks, a half way house between her winter and breeding garb, a longish bill indicating her gender.

Nice to see so many things on the move.


Spring a Leek

A Mediterranean interloper to our countryside is now in flower. The three cornered Leek has delicate white bells that ring in the milder days of spring.


Cliff of Dreams

The cliffs in the east of north Norfolk are relatively unexplored in terms of birdwatchers. There is a dedicated few that know of their potential for migrants. Hardy souls that watch this area day in and day out; that stare down at the slumped cliffs and dream of Alpine Accentors, Wallcreepers and Rock Thrush.

We took a walk along those cliffs last weekend. Having seen a group of gulls resting on the beach below we decided to go through them carefully, just in case there was an Iceland or a Glaucous amidst them. As we raised our optics, in the periphery of my vision I caught movement. It was a pale contender, flying low over the sand to our right; coming in from the east. It didn’t take us long to deduce we had ‘talked-up’ an Iceland Gull. It landed with the other gulls immediately below us…no Camera. What have I been saying about not carrying a camera?  This was a sub adult bird showing just a few indicators of immaturity. I cobbled together a means of taking a crude photograph; a record shot, and phoned Andy. Andy is one of those dedicated souls and I know he would dearly like to see an Iceland Gull on ‘his patch’. No sooner had I finished the call the creature took flight and headed back from whence it came, perhaps onto the continent and then north.

Andy came later to try his luck and managed to find a compensatory Ring Ouzel hugging the cliff face. I returned myself the following day to photograph it.

I eventually found this amazingly elusive individual and fired off a few record shots. As I lie on the cliff top grass looking through the viewfinder I couldn’t help dreaming. Do you think I could talk-up a Wallcreeper?

Click to enlarge – this highland breeder found a temporary home on Norfolk’s only ‘mountains’

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Apr 2012


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