Archive for Nov, 2013


Orange on a grey day

The dullness of a grey autumn day was broken with a splash of orange.

Not a Kingfisher or a late Clouded Yellow but a bit of jewellery. This Herring Gull acquired its bling not in some far flung country bordering the Caspian sea but at Pitsea Landfill site in Essex. Having been later seen at Cley on the North Coast it took up temporary residence at Walcott. A lot could be learned by others from this fantastic website.

Herring Gull



Feather tracts on birds all have fascinating names:, Primaries, Secondaries, Auxilaries, Scapulars and what about the Alula! There’s a whole family of Coverts; Medium, Lesser and Greater. Even the Primaries and Secondaries are split into groups: Inner and outer. The moulting of these feather tracts the order in which they are replaced and when during the year the change takes place is fascinating.

It is interesting to note the changes in the Caister Rose Coloured Starling since it first arrived. It is now moving from a nondescript puce starling towards a pink and black stunner … a feather at a time.

Rose Coloured Starling


A silver lining

For the third time in four days I found myself searching for a dead whale. On the other day of the four we were playing with blow up whales and ‘jumping’ rubber seals training to be marine mammal medics. It would be good and healthy for my soul to spend a little time in the presence of a live cetacean sometime soon – roll on March. More about that another day.

It turns out that after the Minke washed up at Cromer on Friday a Sperm Whale was reported within a mile of Cromer on the Saturday. I couldn’t find it. I found out yesterday this was a hoax. A much more reliable report came in yesterday of another Minke further around the coast at Sea Palling. When I arrived at the site disposal was already being arranged. This was a smaller whale (5.8m) than the Cromer individual, a young female, and had been dead around 3 to 4 days or maybe less,

I guess this individual had wandered inshore of the reef and had become trapped. Dead Minke Whales tend to float upside down and their skin is easily abraded hence the dorsal fin and upper surface damage where it had scraped on sand and rocks. The holes on the underside were natural orifices that had been extended by bird damage.

News of yet another stranding prompted someone to ask me “what’s going on?” It’s not an unreasonable question given that the last officially recorded Minke Whale stranding was 44 years ago and then we get two in four days. It’s sad to see such a glorious animal in such a sorry state but every cloud has a silver lining. If the Herring Shoals offshore were not in such a good state and sightings of whales off the Norfolk Coast were not increasing we wouldn’t have ship strike and stranded Minke Whales as well as Humpbacks offshore. As it always has been, death is a part of life.

2013 11 25 Minke Whale Sea Palling Norfolk_Z5A3674

2013 11 25 Minke Whale Sea Palling Norfolk_Z5A3693


Dancing Partners

Something caught my eye as we turned the corner in the road the other day. I could see a gathering of gulls on the plough, their white plumage was easy to see in the gloom of the morning … but there was something else. I pulled over and lifted my optics to get a closer look. The field was liberally scattered with Cranes; sixteen of them to be precise.

As I set up the camera at the back of the Landrover I could here there distinctive calls. Two were singing and dancing together; leaping in the air and parachuting down on open wings.

Such beautiful birds in an amazing display.

Cranes 1



A fifth record for Norfolk

When Sharon says ‘look at this’ it’s always something on the ground. Honestly the woman must have a crick in her neck. She finds more, snakes, insects and money than anyone else I know. This time it was fungi.

We were on the Deer and Seal Photographic day the other week when my attention was drawn to what looked like a handful of those bobbly rubber finger mits used by bank clerks for counting cash. I had no idea of its name. Even the books I have on fungi didn’t reveal any identity; we poured over them for hours. Eventually I gave in and called in the experts.

Tony Leech is a lovely chap and he has the distinguished title of Norfolk Fungi recorder; even he struggled. I felt vindicated. Eventually Richard Shotbolt came to our rescue.

Our specimen is Cystoderma granulosum, by no means a common fungus with just four previous Norfolk records. The ‘warts’ apparently fall off as the fungus matures – so all the fungi in the shot are the same species. None of the field guides show the young stage and very few pictures on Google images show it. I am told the photo is probably the first to show the two stages together.

Cystoderma granulosum


Minke Whale Washes up at Cromer

A dead female sub adult/adult Minke Whale 6.4m long was washed up at Cromer this lunchtime. She has probably been dead one to two weeks. Many thanks to Simon and Bob for the phone calls. This is probably one of the ‘Humpbacks’ reported by fishermen off Cromer. Given the dorsal fin damage and the way the upper jaw seems to be cleanly cut I would suggest this animal suffered a propeller strike; although it is hard to be sure. I took a DNA sample for the natural History Museum as they wont be recovering the corpse for necropsy. If the tide doesn’t take her back first the local authorities will do their stuff and remove her from the beach.

Minke Whale 2



I’ve seen groups of various ladybirds in autumn before; but I have never seen a gathering of so many 16 spot ladybirds. They are small and despite their numbers I almost overlooked them. The most I have seen previously of this scarcer southerly distributed species is two! Gathered in their thousands for security they will spend the winter hibernating on the gatepost and wall where they were found.

Sixteen Spot Ladybirds


Eventually Crossing Paths

Just look at the snout on these!

It took me three visits to finally connect with the Parrot Crossbills at Holt. I ended up seeing a flock of ten or perhaps more. At least three males and the rest female types; some showing a strong covert bar indicating they were first winters. Even when they are there they can be amazingly elusive as they employ their  ‘make like a pine cone’ hiding strategy. Almost silently they walk and hop around in the top of the pines and larches not making a sound other than the occasional crash of cones released to tumble down through the canopy.

Parrot Crossbill 1

Parrot Crossbill

Parrot Crossbills

2013 11 18 Parrot Crossbill Holt CP Norfolk_Z5A2693



On the Deer and Seal Photography day last weekend we photographed Red and Fallow Deer as well as Grey and Common Seals. It wasn’t just about deer and seals with sightings of various fungi and loads of birds. However, it was the first dozen or so Grey Seal Pups of the season that stole our hearts. This little chap was hours old; still carrying his remnant umbilical cord he has a lot of rich milk to drink …  and although he was looking a little forlorn it won’t take long for him to ‘fill out’ a bit.

Grey Seal Pup




For the second time in a month I found myself staring along the coastline … waiting. Reminiscent of Glossy Ibis.

Initially we searched for a Humpback Whale to rise above the surf but when it didn’t show our interest in that waned a little when we heard of a Black Brant heading our way. It had been seen flying north within a flock of Brent Geese passing Hopton some 17 miles to the south. A back of an envelope calculation and we surmised it would be passing us in about 30 minutes.

We waited.

An approaching flock of Brents got our shutters firing but alas they were far too early.

We waited.

The first real cold winds of early winter started to nip at our fingers but we persevered. Eventually a flock of Brents appeared around the curve of the coast. Immediately apparent was the broader neck band, paler flanks and darker back of the Brant among them.

After it had passed us we celebrated with a hot drink … now that was worth waiting for!

Black Brant

The Brent is the second bird in the flock.

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Nov 2013


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