Archive for Nov, 2012


Being Stalked

For the second time or maybe even the third time this year Norfolk has hosted a Sacred Ibis. See Letter from Norfolk 2nd July.

As I travelled along the coast this individual followed me. I was stalked by an Ibis!

I took the opportunity to take a few shots while the bird wasn’t knee deep in grass and rushes.

DEFRA (Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs) has already all but eliminated Ruddy Ducks from the British Countryside (rightly or wrongly) and of late has had a stab at Badgers, Monk Parakeets and Buzzards. Given the capability of Sacred Ibis’ to wipe out tern colonies I wonder if the hired guns of DEFRA will take a hand if the species does breed.


Look and (maybe) you shall find

One thing I have always tried to do to when looking for wildlife is keep an open mind. I wish I had a pound for every time I have been told. “No, they don’t occur here!” Or “Naa I wouldn’t bother looking there”

I recently did a ferry crossing over the mouth of the St Lawrence in Canada. After an hour in a freshening northerly wind I saw something that looked like an auk cross the bow but it was shearing; fluttering and then gliding. The only small shearwaters that get seen in that area are apparently Manx and the odd Audubon’s. It was a Barolo Shearwater which should have been more at home in European waters. Who can blame the Canadian birders we met from giving me the inquisition. I found out subsequently several Barolos were seen around that time in Canadian Waters.

I went to Iceland in February to photograph Orcas. As we travelled out through the fjord we sailed through a flock of Red throated Divers. I saw a Black throated Diver among them. As they all got off the water the Black throated flew over the boat – I checked it thoroughly looking for the vent strap of a Pacific Diver – it seemed like the logical thing to do – but alas it was only a Black throated. Two days later, on return to the UK, I sent off my records to the Icelandic Bird Recorder only to have an email ping back at me to say it was a first for Iceland – I hadn’t appreciated Black throated Diver’s status in Iceland (I do now) – he shot up the island to try and relocate it!

What I’m trying to say in my naive way is it’s easy to make presumptions … but until you get out and look you never know what you might find.

I’ve just finished planting a shed load of berried trees and bushes here at Falcon Cottage in an attempt to bring in a Waxwing to the garden in a future winter. When you’re not out looking it pays to have things looking for you!


Auk in the dark

Reports came in from further west that there was an auk swimming our way. I looked up the beach and sure enough we could see a small auk just offshore. It was repeatedly diving and spending only short periods on the surface but it was possible to see it was a Little Auk.

We walked up the beach towards it. It was getting late into the day and the light would soon go. I wanted to photograph it while I still could. The Little Auk was obviously feeling the end of the day was imminent too as it stopped feeding and started to preen just the other side of the breakers. If only it had chosen to do this earlier, when the sun was out.


New Bird Pox Strain

Avian Pox has been prevalent in species such as House Sparrow and Woodpigeon for a number of years. Despite some claims to the contra with House Sparrows, avian Pox cannot be blamed for any reduction in the Woodpigeon population; at least, not in Northrepps, Norfolk.

The virus has now undergone a mutation and has entered the Great Tit Population. From what I read it is not going to kill off the species but make it vulnerable to disease. It apparently manifests itself in the Great Tit population in the form of lesions and sores. Not nice.

Keep those feeders disinfected.


Diver Racing

It’s a new sport. Diver Racing.

There we were looking out to sea when a diver popped up in from of us. This was not the usual North Norfolk up-tilted bill pale faced Red-throated. This was a piebald bird with a symmetrical bill and a stonking great white flank patch. It was a Black throated Diver.

We walked down the shingle to get a closer look and the diver did what divers do … and dived. It came up a hundred metres further along the beach. We walked towards it and it dived again coming up a hundred metres away again. Each time we tried to get closer it moved on. We were racing it up the shingle beach.

The picture below is taken at a distance of … you guessed it … one hundred metres.


Batting it back

My friend Paul handed me a dead bat the other day. It was obviously a Long eared bat but which one; Brown or Grey.

Having been found locally it should have been the more widely distributed Brown long eared but several measurements were inconclusive and some features suggested the rarer Grey. In fact if it was Grey it would be a county first. Photographs and measurements were sent off to John Goldsmith the county recorder as well as the Norwich Bat Group … the conclusion … juvenile Brown Long eared Bat. We’ll just have to keep trying to find something new.

Some years ago I was brought several Brown Long eared Bats killed by a cat. Two of them bore rings and were subsequently found to have travelled around eight miles from the site where they were tagged. At the time this was the longest distance ever proven to have been travelled by a Brown long eared Bat within the UK! Not that those eight miles are a great distance but ringed recoveries of bats away from ringing sites are seldom made. Being denizens of darkness we still have much to discover about a quarter of the British Mammals that belong to the bat family but modern tracking systems are opening doors that were previously closed.


Always check

Some years ago I received a phone call from a local farmer asking me if I wanted to come along and see the colourful parrot he had flying around his farm yard. Having a lot of work on at the time I was not endeared to travelling the five miles to the farm just to see an escaped cage bird but politely said I would call the next time I was in the area. Seven days on I called and was treated to some stunning photos of a Bee eater… which had of course long since departed.

Since that occasion I have always followed up on phone calls reporting something odd. Yesterday I received such a call.

Helen Stibbons, a lady who lives down in the village, had seen an odd looking starling visiting her bird feeders during the past few days. She had the foresight to check the Collins guide concluding her visitor was a young Rose coloured Starling, but wanted the sighting verified as she wasn’t sure.

Rose coloured Starling is a rare visitor to Norfolk so I was more than a little sceptical but went as soon as I got the message. Talking to Helen she volunteered the bird was quite pale and had a yellow bill – in truth it sounded good.

It didn’t take long to track the starling down and sure enough it was a moulting juvenile Rose coloured Starling. A great find for Helen, a very good local patch tick and somewhat of a refreshing change from indecipherable, short staying Philosophus and Sylvia Warblers.


Spectres on the Beach

An endless stream of Starlings sparsely peppered with Waxwings flew west as we walked the tideline on our tour earlier this week. We were looking for Snow Buntings or maybe a Shorelark. We found neither as our attention was attracted by corpse after corpse washed up on the beach; Blackbirds, Redwings, Song Thrushes and the like.

These frail half decayed little bodies are the distasteful side of a ‘fall of birds’. They are the remains of individuals that couldn’t make it to land on their migration south.

I have heard it called a disaster, so many dead birds on the recent high tides. Rubbish!

This is nature’s way of thinning out the weak. This is how Natural Selection works. This is how over millennia the survival of the fittest rule. Evolution has designed the intricacies of migration to filter out the weaker genes in the population. Death is very much part of life.

This dead Common Seal perhaps summed up the atmosphere of the long and wide sands we walked.


November Sylvia

I’ve talked often on ‘Letter from Norfolk’ of sharing nature and the things it has to offer. Sometimes we can’t always share everything.

I was on my morning walk yesterday. Through binoculars I was following a small flock of birds feeding in the top of a sycamore when what looked like a warbler swung behind the trunk of the tree. I expected it to be a Chiffchaff, most other arboreal warblers are long gone by the 13th November. It didn’t reappear. Repositioning myself to where I wasn’t staring up into bright sunshine I scanned the higher branches carefully. Discounting Blue Tit after Blue Tit I eventually re-found it. Instead of the presumed dumpy dark Phylloscopus it was a pale sleek Sylvia. It was a Lesser Whitethroat … in November.

The concolourous crown and mantle, the lack of dark ear coverts, the small size, long tail and very grey and white overall colouration meant it surely had to be one of the Eastern races.

Firing off a few hurriedly taken photographs I watched the bird take flight and silently follow the tit flock east. Bugger!

Looking at the timings of the shots; from it coming into view to flying off was a full 1 minute 50 seconds! I alerted others but to no avail, it could not be relocated. It would have been good to get more people involved in the search but this is just about as sensitive an area as we have here locally.

Let’s hope it gets found somewhere a little ways away and everyone can have an opinion on its identity.


The expected and the unexpected

During the week I spent a little time walking the shingle banks on the coastline.

The wind was up but the sun was bright and when it got the chance I could feel it warming my back through several layers of fleece.

A Fieldfare struggled in off the sea and I watched four Snow Buntings scatter as a Merlin Stooped through them nearly taking my head off in the process. An unusual sight was up to twenty or so male Blue Tits amid the low vegetation along the shingle. Perhaps they were continental birds; as I watched them they flew high to the south, indicating to me they probably were. Perhaps something more expected was the Redshank in one of the shingle pools. He didn’t like me too close and objected with head bobbing and loud calls as I passed.

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Nov 2012


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