Archive for Oct, 2012


The Great Fall of Twenty Twelve.

That’s how it will be known. The Great Fall of Twenty Twelve. It started on Monday 22nd October and the after effects are still being seen as I write this note on the Friday 26th. Birds are still re-orientating themselves now the mist and fog have gone; most of the Fieldfares and Redwings have moved through but there’s still lots of Blackbirds and Ring Ouzels with seven of the latter seen today at Overstrand and Sidestrand. Yesterday we even had a Black Redstart trying to get in the house!

It was Thursday however that was ‘my’ day. Walking beneath the edge of the reservoir the call of a bird in the scrub on the bank above me made me swing around and raise my bins. It was the unmistakable call of a Pallas’s Warbler. I couldn’t see it. Frustration set in. It was constantly calling but vegetation was in the way. I moved back a little and there it was, a full crown of stripes on this bright little sprite. It was agitated as though it had just made landfall. It flicked left and then right among the nettles. It was here and then it was gone. Despite an extensive search with others disappointingly it could not be relocated. I dearly would have liked to sit for a while and photograph it.

Not so frustrating further west was a Red flanked Bluetail. This bird found by Mick Sidwell was bouncing around the small campsite wood at Stiffkey but sat up to be photographed in the dull and dingy conditions.

Now where’s that Rubythroat?


A day of Little

Little is sometimes more. On last Saturday’s tour we had a little something; in fact we had two little something’s.

The first came in the form of an ocean dweller pushed ashore by overnight northerlies. Little Auks are normally seen hugging the horizon on seawatches, whirring their tiny wings as they stream across a spotting scopes field of view. Not this one. He made a rather unfamiliar sight gently sailing around obscenly close to us on a shingle pool as he recovered from his ordeal.

The second came in the form of a Little Bunting. A denizen of lands to the east of Norway this scare visitor had made temporary home feeding upon the seed heads of weeds aside a busy footpath; both small, but both quite special.


Hide and Seek

The distinctive and repetitive calls of a local Yellow browed Warbler last week did nothing to belie how non cooperative it was being. It would just not show. Even when it did eventually put in an appearance it was still playing hide and seek. It was one of those occasions when you have to piece together a picture: a supercillium here a wing-bar there and it never truly posed for the camera. I do however never tire of seeing these warblers of the Taiga region; enigmatic, transitory and subtly beautiful.


Caped Crusade

A quiet autumn had us taking an interest in a Ruddy Shelduck reported at Repps in north west Norfolk the other day. Well … we were in the area and there was little else to look at and anyway several had been seen of late throughout the country and there was just the chance this was a genuine vagrant and not an escape from captivity. Maybe.

Having found the stubble field where said bird was said to reside we quickly located the flock of accompanying Egyptian Geese and scoured the flock for the Ruddy Shelduck. It eventually put it head above the parapet of stubble and showed itself in all its glory. However this was a Ruddy Shelduck with a problem. A Ruddy Sheluck geographically and genetically challenged. It was in fact a female Cape Shelduck (or at best a hybrid) from South Africa or perhaps more appropriately a wildfowl collection as this is a non migratory species.


A fall of birds

As I looked out of the window on Monday I couldn’t see the hedgerow at the far end of the garden; thick, dense fog. I didn’t rush to get outside. How wrong I was. On stepping out of the door I was greeted with a clatter of wings as a large flock of Fieldfare took flight into the grey of the mist. Chaffinch were everywhere and the air was filled with the high pitched peeping of Goldcrest and the equally high pitched whistles of Redwings. There had been a fall of birds.

A high pressure and clear skies on Sunday night over Scandinavia had prompted birds to move south. When they hit the Norfolk Coast shrowded in fog they were grounded. A fall of birds.

I made my way coastward and was over-flown by wave after wave of thrushes. Down at the rockpile 3 to 4 Black Redstarts, Bramblings and more thrushes  flew in and swept up the cliff and a couple of Ring Ouzel made landfall. It was only a matter of time before one of us found something interesting. It was Tony and Rose that alerted us to an interesting Acrocephalus Warbler… but which one? After much observation and photographs the debate began.  I think we’re more or less all settled now on Reed Warbler with a slight bill abnormality… but I’ll stand corrected.


Into the Light

It never ever ceases to amaze me how far birds can travel. Small insignificant little waifs; no more than balls of feathers really, can traverse mountain ranges and oceans; journeys that you and I would find unthinkable.  One such small traveller recently took residence on a small muddy pool at Kelling in North Norfolk. I say took residence; he did from time to time make forays further along the coast and annoyingly usually 10 minutes before my arrival.

The Pectoral Sandpiper from the high Arctic of North America/ Eastern Siberia chose Kelling Quag as a stop-over point on its migration south. This is a charming place and good for birds too, but to photograph them here it is ludicrously difficult. The lens is almost always pointing south … into the light and the birds are separated from photographer if not by distance then by a set of dancing reeds intent on being wind blown into frame.

I turned up just past first light the other day determined to get a decent shot of the Pec. It wasn’t there. Typical. I thought I would sit it out as there was low cloud and the light was nice and flat making it ideal for getting a shot should the sandpiper choose to grace us with its presence.

I didn’t see it fly in. It sort of magically appeared. The wind was somewhat blowy and so the reeds did their best to get between me and the bird but I eventually got one or two shots off I was pleased with just before the sun broke through and made further photography too difficult.


Sharing Complements

I have been called many things in my time; but recently I have felt very flattered.

I was said to have the” Skihari of a Big Game Hunter” – a complement indeed.  Only last week one of my customers referred to me as the “Pied Piper of Norfolk” while on a Norfolk Birding Tour – we had seen a distant Barn Owl and I squeaked at it drawing it a little closer to where we sat in the Landrover.

I like people to have good views. For no other reason than I want my guests to see clearly what I and others have been seeing all our lives and if you can’t share something with someone then I feel it is devalued. I guess what I’m saying is it’s good to share with friends and companions. Let’s hope we have enough sense to keep and treasure our wildlife and wild places for our children’s children to see and share.


All in a Jay’s Work

If you take a look at any Oak tree here in Norfolk at the moment you will struggle to find any with acorns. I’m not sure why; maybe it’s cyclical and just happens from time to time, maybe it’s the unusual weather we’ve had here; hopefully we haven’t lost a pollinator of some sort.

Anyway, the jays must be finding it a bit of a raw deal as it doesn’t take a lot of effort to look up and see several flying over at height this week. Irrupting; moving to somewhere where presumably there are more acorns. I haven’t seen any Jays coming in off the sea just moving along the coast so maybe these aren’t continental birds just our own British contingent. So maybe the acorn failure is local. Some amazing groups of 20 to 30 or even more Jays have been seen moving through. Early one morning this week I came across a resting party of ten birds. They soon flew up high and returned to their westward journey.


Nice Garden Tick

It looked like a bright sunny when I set off on my walk this morning. I try to cover the area around Falcon Cottage north to the sea as frequently as tours and other work allows. I like to see what’s happening on ‘my patch’. Bird migration should be hot right now in mid October but in fact it’s as slow as I’ve known it for many years. Good birds tend to be turning up in Essex and around the Borders of Scotland but seem to be missing Norfolk … for the moment – there’s still time for that to change but it suffices to say it’s a bit quiet.

With an unpromising steady south westerly wind blowing I set off with no air of expectation just a mild healthy curiosity.  I was right; finding birds was hard work. As a good friend of mine said over the weekend Woodpigeon Retina burn-out! It came as some surprise then that from one small copse the familiar sound of a calling Yellow browed Warbler punctuated the silence and a rather out of place Great spotted Woodpecker coming in off the sea led me to take a second take as it landed on one of the wooden groynes!

As I climbed back up the ridge towards home the wind got up and the sky turned that gun metal grey that signals rain. It wasn’t long before it started; not heavy forceful rain you understand, just gentle drizzle. Then it all started to happen.

Skylarks in abundance, Song Thrushes, Redwings, Chaffinch by the score and a party of House Martins dashed through – the first I’ve seen for a couple of weeks. Despite the south westerly, migration was happening and the rain was pushing things down low.

As I got back to Falcon Cottage and closed the gate behind me I heard a ‘crest’ in the garden. Not the thin call of a Goldcrest but the round fruity call of a Firecrest and with a little patience there it was, feeding among the ivy on the leeside of trees. I watched it as it danced through the branches and leaped over the bushes to a Holm Oak in the far hedgerow. I never tire of seeing these tiny flying jewels. From here it left the garden and it was away. I turned to enter the house only to be faced with another feeding in the ivy by the door. Two Firecrests!

As Sharon said … nice garden tick!


Me and a couple of friends?

There’s a promontory that juts out into the sea on the Isles of Scilly so phallic in shape it is called Penninis. As I walked down the length of Penninis late in the day last week the rain came in off the Atlantic horizontally. I had left my team drying out for dinner back at the hotel. We were away from the island the next morning and I wanted a last look at a pair of birds that had spent the last few days sat in the short turf at the end of the headland; my last Scilly ‘fix’; a short moment to myself.  A Dotterel and a Buff breasted Sandpiper had befriended one another and had spent their time on the island together; inseparable. Where one went, the other followed.

I soon found them and headed beyond and around where they were sat. I could see the dry lea side of a boulder from where I could watch them sheltered from the rain. However as I walked by them both birds ran towards me. Not wishing to flush them I crouched in the wet grass. They came closer. I sensed they wanted to use me as shelter. There was just me, the two friends and a lot of rain.

I managed to take several photographs although the light was bad; terribly bad, and the rain even worse but I wanted a record of the moment. The Dotterel came too close to focus on but retreated when he realised I perhaps wasn’t as good a rain shelter as he originally thought. The Buff breast followed. I continued my walk to the boulder some 50m distance and made myself comfortable. As I looked back I could see the Dotterel but not the Buff breast. I assumed he was crouched in the grass, too low to see him.

The rain eased a little and I decided to leave. Meeting a couple of birdwatchers who had just arrived on the island I pointed out the Dotterel but despite a careful search we could not find his accompanying friend. I guess I gave it about 15 minutes or so before deciding to leave them to search the rest of the headland themselves. I was thanked for helping with the search and I made my way back for a very enticing warm shower. I had only walked some 30m or so before I saw the Buff breasted Sandpiper sitting comfortably under a bench sheltering from the elements.

I should have known he wouldn’t have been too far from his friend.

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Oct 2012


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