Archive for Oct, 2013


Humpback Whale off Norfolk

I made a prediction in July. I foresaw that within 5 years we would be watching a Humpback Whale off the Norfolk coastline. Having committed this to print in the latest Norfolk Bird and Mammal Report I was relived yesterday morning when Ryan Irvine called me to say he’d seen one off Hemsby. A first for Norfolk and four and a half years to spare! Good on ye Ryan.

It was later seen further north. I couldn’t make it there yesterday but did make it today and amazingly it was still offshore. Although distant it appeared to be breathing quite well and also feeding accompanied by a flock of diving Gannet.

It was as I was about to move on I noticed the whale had covered an inordinately large distance in a very short time. This of course is possible. They can move quickly. My mind momentarily slipped to asking … ‘could there be two?’ but I dismissed the thought. How ridiculous would that be! I mean two Humpbacks off norfolk … laughable.

Looking at the photos this evening some I’ve taken seen to show classic Humpback features of a lumpy fin with a bushy blow. Some even show the splashguard despite the animal being two to three miles distant. However several shots show some extensive white scaring/calcareous growth on the dorsal fin. This leads me to think I may have been right. There are perhaps two animals.

Most humpbacks are identifiable by the pattern on the underside of their tail flukes; it’s like a fingerprint. Any large whale off Norfolk is unlikely to show its tail flukes often, if at all. The water is not deep enough here for a full dive which is when a whale would show the underside of the tail as it ‘handstands’ prior to submerging.

The scaring on fins is also known to be useful in identifying Humpbacks. Indeed the first Humpback to be named is called ‘Salt’ and is so named because of her white dorsal fin. She returns each summer to the Stellwagen Bank off Massachusetts.

If there are two whales off Norfolk and one has a white fin marking I wonder if we can identify it to an individual?

Please bear in mind how distant the whale(s) were when looking at the photos.

Humpback 1

No white on dorsal fin

Humpback 2

No white on dorsal fin

Humpback 3

Two points of white on dorsal fin

Humpback 4

… and likewise

As an example of white markings on dorsal fins, here’s a photo I took several years ago of ‘Salt’

2009 10 12 Humpback Whale Mass USA IMG_6496



A sweet weeping tree

This fungi does not solely grow on Oaks despite its name of Oak Bracket Fungi; although we saw it growing on Holm Oaks sometimes called Evergreen Oaks I have seen it on Birch and Alders. Easily distinguishable as the growth itself looks like a lump of solid honey oozing from the tree. The edge of the bracket exudes droplets of what looks like runny honey. I’m assured it doesn’t taste sweet. I didn’t try it!

Oak Bracket Fungus


The Magic of Minsmere

We had a great tour to Minsmere over the border in Suffolk at the beginning of the month. Bearded Tits were showing closer than I’ve ever seen them here before and among many other highlights Red Deer put on a show for the photographers in the group.

Bearded Tit

Red Deer


A Surfeit of Swifts

Tim saw it first. The scythe of a crescent cut the air this morning at Happisburgh. No Radde’s Warbler, but on the windy ridge of the church, a Pallid Swift was consolation.

A phone call from Paul midday told of another over Temple Wood and it was heading my way. One of these beasts over the garden would be good. I stood willing it to fly by; and guess what? It did!

As I stood on the lawn I was treated to a flypast worthy of a Spitfire. The features stood out as if someone held up a field guide. When I returned with my camera it was on the horizon – you can’t have everything.

I followed it and over the cliff top fields it performed wonderfully.

Two birds … this darker bird and the paler Cromer individual were together over Northrepps at one point. I feel the Happisburgh bird was the darker individual relocating further north west.

2013 10 2013 Pallid Swift Trimingham Norfolk_Z5A6727

Note the length of the second primary

2013 10 2013 Pallid Swift Trimingham Norfolk_Z5A6781

… and the deep fork in the tail

2013 10 2013 Pallid Swift Trimingham Norfolk_Z5A6785

primary length again …

2013 10 2013 Pallid Swift Trimingham Norfolk_Z5A6827

… and look at that eye patch and throat colour.


Pallid Swift over Cromer

Awesome views of Pallid Swift today over Cromer in evening sunshine with at least two Swallows. Possibly went to roost in the church.

Pallid Swift


Mealy mouthed

Hiding in a corner out of the wind the other week was this Mealy Redpoll. Tired, wet and hungry after his journey south he fed on small seeds from a dock to recoup a little energy before no doubt flying on to the south.

Mealy Redpoll


Spirit of Turnstone

Maybe the Turnstones were after insects on the windscreen or perhaps they have become habituated to people throwing titbits onto the bonnets of their cars. Whatever it is the sight of these little wading birds climbing over cars on a tour the other week was quite bizarre.



A Birders Bird

A couple of Bird Watching Day Tours to Caister recently saw us searching through several hundred Starlings for something a little more special. A juvenile Rose Coloured Starling doesn’t hold a candle to a fully coloured up adult; but they are still quite special, in a sort of subdued way. The last juvenile I saw was here in Northrepps last autumn when one was caught up in a movement of Starlings that stayed in the village for a few days.

One thing that didn’t pass me by as we searched the large Starling flock for the Rosey was how wonderfully diverse the ordinary Starlings were; no two exactly alike. Perhaps that’s why the Rose Coloured Starling felt at home among them.

Rose Coloured Starling


Icing on the cake

There I was, stood on the cliff top looking longingly west.

The pager went off late morning to say four Glossy Ibis (or should it be ibis’s or ibides or even ibes? Mmm doesn’t sound right … let’s stick with Ibis) … four Glossy Ibis were flying east along the coast at Hunstanton. Then Titchwell, then Stiffkey. I was on the cliff top at Trimingham. They were definitely heading my way.

Next message: past Cley. I phoned Trevor. He was elated, 300 up for his garden … what a list. He said they were still heading east just offshore when he’d seen them from outside his back door. The next pager message said they had just past Beeston Bump; the next, West Runton. I stared hard into the distance. The phone went off. It was Ben. They had just passed Cromer Pier. Thank you Ben. I strained my eyes. They must be visible now… surely. Here they are! No … four Teal. Time never dragged so slow. I must have missed them. Maybe they had flown North or maybe they had decided to cut inland. Then … beating wings, just above the sea, here they are relentlessly heading east; Holland bound. I smiled to myself. Four Glossy Ibis … in the bag! … and what was this; a Short Eared Owl in off the sea. Almost over my shoulder and pitched into the plantation. That had to be the icing on the cake.

2013 10 18 Glossy Ibis Trimingham Norfolk_Z5A5501

Not the best photos I’ve ever taken but I hope they convey the moment.

2013 10 18 Short eared Owl Trimingham Norfolk_Z5A5579


A Blue Tale

Having spent much of one morning after a fall of birds last week trying to find my own Red flanked Bluetail and only turning up a few ancillary birds I decided I would go and photograph the bird seen at Happisburgh. Although a late Spotted Flycatcher (eastern race?), Snow Bunting, Redstart, a heap of Brambling and a nice brown crowned eastern race Lesser Whitethroat are all good to see locally … they don’t hold a candle to a Bluetail.

Red flanked Bluetail 1


Red flanked Bluetail 2

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Oct 2013


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