Archive for Jan, 2013


Swan spat

In north east Norfolk at the moment there seems to have been an influx of Bewick Swans. On tours this week we have come across several hundred Bewick’s in small dispersed flocks far outnumbering the Whooper Swans with which they are associating. Normally it is The Whoopers that make up the larger proportion.

One small heard we encountered at the roadside were arguing among themselves … to the point of drawing blood. I’m not so sure why there was so much fury towards one another but they seemed to sort it out albeit with the loss of a few feathers.



Larking Around

The sun brought the promise of a change in the weather on Saturday. As I turned from shutting the garden gate a large flock of Skylarks took flight from the field opposite. I made a quick guess there were around 250 of them and despite carefully looking none appeared to be short tailed … but they were marvellous to see.

It was later in the day that I received a text from Simon to say he’d seen a probable Woodlark around 500 metres north of Falcon Cottage. It didn’t take me long to get there and an even shorter time for us both to establish it was indeed a Woodlark. It was scratting around among short scrub at the edge of the plough. Shortly after I got there it lifted up and showed a short tail as it gave classic calls flying west over my head, to be re-found later by Andy at Toll’s Hill.

I wonder if this is the same returning bird that spent a few weeks with us last winter or maybe the area just looks right for a stop-off if you’re a passing Woodlark.



A Brush with a Barnie

I was doing some survey work last week down on the Waveney when a Barn Owl came so close it almost brushed me with its wings. I don’t know who was more surprised … it or me!

It was certainly too close to miss the photo opportunity.

The snow cover is making hunting for raptors and owls more difficult. This particular Barn Owl had to hunt during the day as well as at night to get enough sustenance.

Barn Owl


Hare today gone tomorrow

The collective noun for a gathering of Hares is a Drove. I have also heard a Down of Hares used too, although I believe in the states a Husk of Hares is more appropriate.

On moonlit evenings and bright short days it is now possible to see Droves of Hares. They make fascinating watching. Contra to popular belief they box for much of the year. They breed for much of the year and so the pre-mating ceremony of boxing when the female tries to fend off the attentions of the male also takes place throughout most months. Perhaps it is the snow covered fields and/or short crops that make it more obvious during spring. It may also be the short days forcing this normally nocturnal activity into daylight hours that make boxing Hares easier to see

One or two were chasing around within a group of around ten opposite Falcon Cottage at the weekend but none came close enough to offer a real photo opportunity.



More Snow

As I woke on Monday morning another snowfall overnight had left a good 6 inches of the white stuff for us all to negotiate. For all of us in heated homes and vehicles it’s easy to cope with winter but our wildlife is now finding it hard. I urge you to put out a little fruit, nuts, seed, fat and warm water for our feathered friends and others. They need a little help at the moment.

Walking around the hill here at the beginning of the week a Song Thrush came down and inspected my footprints where I’d exposed the grass underneath the snow. He was desperate to find food.

Song Thrush


Snow good.

A play on words has always tickled my fancy. I am one of those chaps who likes hidden innuendo. It’s a typically British thing and I guess I am the archetypal Brit. I remember when I lived in neighbouring Suffolk and a friend called his festival company ‘Suffolk and Good’. I laughed for a week. I have seen the phrase ‘Norfolk and Good’ as a label since but I guess once you’ve heard it, it loses impact.

Visual humour is the other thing that always gets my tickle organs pumping and a photo sent to me by one of my customers last week made me chuckle. A snowman. It wasn’t until I took a closer look I saw why I’d been sent the mail. The cool character was wearing a piece of relevant promotional attire. Thanks Lawrie.

I often get sent pictures by customers. “Can you identify this” or “Look at this, isn’t it fantastic?” I love them all. It shows interest. Sharing the capturing of a moment is always pleasing and some are fizz-gogglingly good. In fact I have been thinking about setting something up to get some of them on one of the websites.

‘Wildlife Tours and Education’ is now entering its fifth year and I can honestly say I have enjoyed every minute; perhaps a contrast to much of the preceding 32 years. There were some good times but thirty two years…. Wow! That’s some time to dedicate to one employer … but I guess like the company those year have now all melted away. Nothing is forever.

Keep those photos coming!


Photo by Lawrie Webb


Life’s a beach

Short winter days soon end. It was sunny but cold.

As we walked along the beach last week a flock of Snow Bunting flew in, apparently off the sea. I’m sure they didn’t, but again as they were disturbed by dog walkers the whole flock flew out to sea. We lost sight of them but waited a while until they returned, which they duly did. The whole flock floated in like feathered blossom being carried along on a breezy day. As they landed their long shadows betrayed the lateness of the afternoon. We still managed a further hour or more of light enabling a Short eared Owl to put on an equally impressive performance.

Snow Buntining


Swallow and Snow

A few Lapwing and Golden Plover with a scattering of Fieldfare were new to the hill. A change in the weather brought new birds and a bright morning of sun soon changed on Tuesday to a winter’s scene.

Moving in from the north a heavy snow laden sky brought a blizzard to north Norfolk; the first snow of the winter. Just before it arrived an unlikely sighting; a Swallow skipping east. I had to look twice. In fact I looked to the local highland cow for confirmation … but he seemed unimpressed.

Highland Cow


Rook on the beach

Many years ago I sat on a beach at Colombo in Sri Lanka and watched House Crows flying over two miles out to sea to rob fishermen of their catch as they were hauling their nets. I find the Crow family fascinating; highly intelligent creatures that can adapt to any situation.

On the beach here last month I watched a Rook beach combing the tide line for any morsels. Usually Rooks are quite wary but this one was determined to ignore me as he sifted through the seaweed and other jetsam.



Dipping into ratial clines

The photograph below is of a ‘Black bellied Dipper’ that has been frequenting the river Little Ouse and the River Thet in Thetford within the south of the county of Norfolk. It’s been there on and off since early November and will probably spend the rest of the winter there.

Although I think they are fantastic birds I don’t overly enjoy photographing Dippers. They are almost always in dark environments under riverside trees and they are piebald, both of which make exposure difficult. With this latest bird add to that the grey skies and dim days of a British winter and you have a challenge on your hands.

I took several photographs when we went to see the bird last week. The one below is not the best, in fact it is distinctly aesthetically unpleasing. I mean, who wants a picture of a dipper sat on a broken wheel trim? However, it shows the bib and chest/belly juncture quite well which is what I wanted you to see. The reasons for this will become apparent later.

Dippers, or to give them one of their proper name of White throated Dipper or European Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) are rare in Eastern England. They are the birds of the west and the north of the UK. However it is an intriguing species with several sub species supposedly separated on appearance. The following has been composed from the bible of birds; Birds of the Western Palearctic (BWP)

Cinclus cinclus cinclus is the nominate form otherwise known as Black bellied Dipper. It inhabits much of the continent.

Cinclus cinclus gularis inhabits England, Wales, Orkneys, east and central Scotland.

Cinclus cinclus aquaticus inhabits central and southern Europe.

Cinclus cinclus hibernicus inhabits Ireland, the Outer Hebrides and the west coast of Scotland.

Cinclus cinclus minor inhabits North West Africa.

Cinclus cinclus caucauscus can be found in much of Turkey and Iran.

Cinclus cinclus persicus also inhabits some of Iran.

Cinclus cinclus uralensis can be found in the Ural Mountains.

There are also several more eastern races from other parts of Turkey and Iran as well as Afghanistan, central China and Eastern Siberia.

The mainland British race gularis has a broad chestnut band on the belly whereas cinclus has a black belly with much reduced chestnut. It is traditionally assumed any of the Black bellied form occurring within England is due to southward movement of Scandinavian birds of cinclus. In the rest of Eurasia the geographical variation is highly complex some populations varying even within the same mountain range.

It is worth noting that uralensis has been known to undertake movements of at least 1000km aquaticus up to 160km and there are two possible British Records of this race. hibernicus which also has a similar appearance to cinclus in that its belly has restricted chestnut and is also known to undertake altitude movement during winter.

The more you read in BWP regarding racial variation the less it becomes clear where the lines can be drawn. I understand birds are even difficult to specifically identify to race in the hand yet alone in the field.

Let’s face it the Thetford bird is probably a cinclus but other options shouldn’t be totally excluded. What a great subject for someone to do a study with satellite tagging. Whatever race the bird is it was wonderful to watch it feeding on Cadis Fly larva; swimming under water to fetch them back to its perch where it nipped off the end of the covering, held on to the larva and shook off the sheath, swallowing the larva whole.


Of the following three photos one was taken in Lancashire, one in central Scotland and one in Austria which is the aquaticus race. Can you tell which one it is?

Dipper 1

Dipper 2

Dipper 3


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Jan 2013


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