Archive for Dec, 2013



We’ll it’s that time of year again. The sun bleached bones of 2013 are lying exposed and the embryo of 2014 is about to enter the world. It’s time now to review what’s happened, where we’ve been, what we’ve seen and perhaps pick out a highlight or two. Several stand out as being memorable.

One of the challenges I set myself at the start of 2013 was to photograph Corncrake. This was achieved on the island of Iona off the south west corner of Mull. Seeing so many of these enigmatic birds in such a small area was spellbinding.

Our trip to Tenerife where we encountered Short finned Pilot Whales sticks in my mind. In fact the Pilot Whales were not the only Cetaceans we saw this year. Our trip to Mull gave us the company of a pod of Common Dolphin off Col. They rode with us for 15 minutes. Then there were the Pine Martens on the porch in front of the window where we stayed on Ardnamurchan. How could I forget those fascinating and photogenic creatures? Seeing the first Humpback Whale off Norfolk, on several occasions, was a long awaited site. What about the thrill of finding a Ringed Seal in Oban Harbour. It’s not every day you find a vagrant Seal. Or maybe encountering a species record for the number of Northern Emerald Damselflies in the UK – that was a good day. Coming across a Black Throated Diver so close at the roadside on the Skye Tour sticks in my mind. That trip held a few other surprises too; a lingering and photogenic White tailed Eagle and a Basking Shark aside the boat. We saw these later in the year off Col too … breaching would you believe. Finding and photographing the Red breasted Flycatcher at Trimingham was also a satisfying moment.

To be fair there have been so many. The tours in particular this year have been full of highlights. The jewel in the crown however belongs to the tiny ball of feathers that occupied the garden here at Falcon Cottage during late summer. Finding the putative Italian Sparrow here on my doorstep eclipsed all else for me. Why? … because it gave so much pleasure to everyone that came to see him and I had so much fun discussing and photographing him… regardless of any outcome.

2013 08 18 Sparrow sp Northrepps Norfolk_Z5A5946


In disguise

Recently, during a tour along the coast we came across this wader. At a distance it was doing a good impression of a Curlew. It was however a Black tailed Godwit with a slightly deformed bill.

Black tailed Godwit


Not as bad as we thought

It’s pleasing to know that the storm surge did not affect the Grey Seal pups as much as initially thought. Plenty still left on the beaches and occasionally one wanders into one of the car parks.

Grey Seal Pup



Merry Christmas

Looking at the display of Christmas cards here at Falcon Cottage almost everyone has a bird on it. That makes me smile. Merry Christmas to all. Enjoy the break from work and time with your families and soak up the spirit of Christmas. As for a photo; what could be more quintessentially Christmas than our ubiquitous Robin.




The Woodcock, The Mallard and the 34th President

Many years ago I had an occasion to visit the railway station in Sheffield. By chance my visit coincided with the appearance of the ‘Mallard’. This was a steam engine of legend; a steam engine of my childhood books. An A4 class Pacific that reflected the Décor age in design and its status as the pinnacle of industrial Britain. An era when we were faster, higher and quicker than any nation on earth. As I stood on the platform the sheer power of this engine rose through my feet resonating every fibre in my body. The machinery pulsed with energy almost threatening detonation. I was being showered in sparks and soot. I had never seen or felt anything like it.

I was in York this weekend to attend a wedding. Just the other side of the railway station to our hotel was the National Railway Museum … and I’d heard the Mallard was present. Don’t get me wrong I’m not a keen railway anorak but the thought of seeing it again was pulling me to pay a visit. I did so today.

Not one but three of the six remaining A4 class Pacific’s together. The Mallard, The Dominion of Canada (originally called the Woodcock) and the Dweight D. Eisenhower.

Ok not wildlife I grant you. Forgive me. It’s just I was brought up with trains and these apices of machinery are guaranteed to purge the regular heartbeat from this son of a simple shunter.

2013 12 22 A4 Class Steam Engines York Rail Museum Yorks !cid_D8A3326D-4717-498B-8B70-3E97EF8BD559


humbling forces

I have been out taking a look around. There was certainly a movement of the coastline landscape during the storm surge we had a few weeks ago. I wanted to know where access points had changed and where we could still get on our tours. New pools have formed; others have been covered or swept away. Sometimes it takes a while to orientate with new features horizons in place and old ones gone forever.

We mustn’t be too alarmed at the changes. For example if we go back to the 1800’s they were harvesting fields to the north of the existing shingle bank at Cley. These have been under the sea for many years. The latest movement of the bank is just a normal re-sighting of the landscape that has and will occur from time to time. The freshwater invertebrates within Cley reserve will take time to recover. Flooding has happened before here and the freshwater environment has re-established its former state more than once. However, movement of the shingle bank southward will surely continue pushing the reserve into a narrower and narrower sliver of coastline between the sea and the coast road. The purchase of the additional land between Cley and Salthouse by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust is a still a good move although given what we have just experienced the siting (or design) of the new proposed hide to the east of east bank could perhaps be given more thought.


What remains of the former Car Park at Salthouse is pictured above. I met a young mother here with her children. She was quite upset and explained she was lamenting the loss of the car park and the burying of the sign under shingle where she and her family used to lean their scooters. After talking a while she understood what had happened was only natural. As she gazed at the new landscape she said something I thought was quite profound. She said that ‘We all live cosseted lives and that occasionally it is humbling to be reminded of the forces the natural world can summon’.

Further west along the coast a gable end from a beach hut presumably from Wells next the Sea managed to end up 5km to the east at Stiffkey. Much debris along the edge of the Saltmarsh here.


Below a victim of the storm. The corpse of this Oystercatcher hung in the Sea Buckthorn bushes at the edge of the saltmarsh.



moving out but not moving on

When photographing the Starlings in a previous posting – spot on – I did manage to get a few more shots of Norfolk’s ‘resident’ Rose Coloured Starling. Still moving further out of its juvenile plumage it’s gaining more adult feathers particularly around the throat. As it perched on a garden bird feeder it came closer than I’ve seen it previously; in good light too!

2013 12 04 Rose Coloured Starlings Caister on Sea Norfolk_Z5A4292


A Bone of Contention

It’s quite amazing the amount of rubbish the storm surge threw up on the local beaches. My good friend Tony was getting quite depressed at the amount of rubbish here on the tideline at Overstrand. The sewage, diesel and oil will be dealt with by Mother Nature. They’re natural or ‘near-natural’ products and she’s equipped to deal with them. It’s the plastics that are the problem. You don’t have to search too hard on the internet to see what a devastating effect they can have on the environment and on wildlife. They take a long long time to degrade. There is now even evidence that some microbe communities are attaching themselves to plastics and helping to rasp them down to ever smaller and smaller particles – but they never biodegrade – just get smaller. They will always be present in the environment.

The surge also moved a lot of shingle and sand around reshaping the coastline, it’s thrown up an odd surprise or two as well.

While doing some work clearing up one of the coastal footpaths Ed Smith found a whale bone. Thanks to the experts at the Natural History Museum it’s been possible to narrow it down to being a single, caudal chevron bone from the ventral surface (underside) of the caudal (tail) region of the vertebral column of a large whale, possibly a sperm whale, though species identification is not possible from Ed’s photographs. Chevron bones serve to protect major blood vessels in the tail region of cetaceans.

Who knows how long the bone has been lying undetected among the shingle and sand.

Photos copyright Ed Smith

2013 12 09 Chevron Bone possibly Sperm Whale  Stiffkey Norfolk TF973441 1 Ed Smith

2013 12 09 Chevron Bone possibly Sperm Whale  Stiffkey Norfolk TF973441 2 Ed Smith


The Devils of the beach

Not many years ago winter was the time you could easily see Shorelark in Norfolk; regular immigrants from the north. Now they are few and far between.

We searched for three reported on the shingle beach the other week. Bob saw them first and alerted me to something flying our way. Dog Walkers had flushed them from further down the foreshore. Even in flight the yellow and black faces practically shone in the low December sunshine. Luckily they landed nearby and ran into cover among the Marram.

With a little care we approached them and as we sat low and waited they eventually started to move our way. Shorelarks are normally a shy bird easily put to the air but one in particular favoured our company.

Those tiny ‘horns’ give the bird its American name of Horned Lark. I remember seeing a Shore/Horned Lark on Tresco in the Isles of Scilly one October. I think it was October 2001. I seem to remember it was quite long billed and differed slightly in its face, head, tertial and covert patterns and was thought by many to have been a Horned Lark. It has to be said there are so many races on both side of the Atlantic, all ever so slightly different; so assigning an individual to race outside of its normal range is often less than straightforward.



In a rut

On the Deer and Seal Photographic day last month we came across this Fallow Deer Stag resting under a Holm Oak. He was probably absolutely ‘cream crackered’ with rutting 24/7. We kept a reasonable distance; after all these are wild animals and should always be treated as such. We took our photos and then retreated to leave him well alone to continue his recovery.

Such magnificent animals.

Fallow Deer

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Dec 2013


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