Archive for Apr, 2015


The sky, a bird and a pile of s**t

As good friend Tony was driving home after work one night last week he noticed the same cloud formations I had seen from the back garden here at Falcon Cottage. It was worthy of a Spielberg scene; bulbous, moody and dark with radiating structures. So unearthly was the appearance he pulled up at the side of the road to take a good look. It was only then he noticed the large colourful Wheatear sitting upon the manure heap at the edge of the adjacent field.

When we talking about the sky later he mentioned the ‘Greenland’ race Wheatear prompting me to go and photograph it a few days later.

Identification of Greenlands is never straight forward and requires a suite of features to be seen. Many cannot be fully allocated to race and I feel sure there must be intergrades. Greenlands are big birds that stand upright. They have more peach daubed on the front than any self-respecting Northern Wheatear would ever be seen dressed in. Greenlands are the Toby Jugs of the Wheatear world; pot-bellied and rotund. The adult’s mantle is sullied with rust compared with the mirror grey of Northern. Long winged compared with their northern counterpart these birds fly a long, long way. At this time of year they have an epic migration from Kenya and beyond all the way north to Greenland.

I’m not completely endeared to such rich insults on the olfactory sense; this bird and I spent quite some time playing hide and seek around the manure pile before eventually it got used to me and saw me as completely benign.

It was maybe the bright morning sun bleaching out the plumage leading me to think the peachy breast perhaps didn’t go down the belly far enough. It wasn’t until I saw the photograph showing seven exposed primary tips as opposed to Northern’s five to six that I was convinced the identification was beyond doubt. Lovely bird. Thanks Tony.

Greenland Wheatear I

Greenland Wheatear III



Long ago … in a place far, far away … I saw my first Grasshopper Warbler. I had heard them a-plenty but never clapped eyes on one. Elusive little suckers they are; ‘reeling’ from within a bush or bramble and only venturing out in the half-light. They are true denizens of the twilight hours. I didn’t find it myself. It was located by my step daughter. As we stood slightly apart scanning the vegetation the conversation went something like this …

“I can see it!”

“Sssshhh Beckie”

“… It’s here!”

“Will you be quiet, I’m trying to find this warbler”

“… but Carlie … I CAN SEE IT”

I stood behind her … … “Bloody hell she can too!”

I reckon she must have been about seven at the time. Beckie now lives in Australia, and is a parent herself. She reminded me of that conversation just this last week. I can still see the bird in my mind’s eye sat in the reed bed at Blacktoft Sands and I can still see her proud little face staring up at me. She found it!

In a moment of deja vous a couple of days ago at Cley Marshes I came face to face with an atypical Grasshopper Warbler. A Grasshopper Warbler that had not read the books; one that took to perching up and singing in the middle of the day. It cried out to be photographed.

This one is for you Beckie xxX

Grasshopper Warbler

I just love the subtle flecks and edging to the feathering and the chevrons on the under-tail coverts on these birds. The shades of forest, dark yellows and olives within the plumage are worthy of any artist’s palette.

Grasshopper Warbler II

2015 04 24 Grasshopper Warbler Cley Marshes Norfolk_Z5A7503



Gone a fishin’

We were watching the loch unaware someone else was too.

On the recent trip to Scotland as we scanned the large area of water in front of us a large raptor came into view to our left. It was the unmistakable shape of an Osprey. As we all watched it glide effortlessly along the shoreline above us it hovered … then stooped. We didn’t see it hit the water, the nearside of the loch was hidden to us. We waited. It wasn’t long before she appeared shaking and re-orientating the large trout in her talons. There then ensued a mild panic as we all scrambled for our cameras.Osprey_Z5A4620


Are you dancin’?

Don’t you just love Great crested Grebes in spring?

Great crested Grebes_MG_3309


Dozing in the heather

As I swung the vehicle into a gateway and orientated us so everyone had a view out over the ridge in front of us one of my guests pointed something out.

We were in Scotland last Saturday on the ‘Birders Scottish Long Weekend’. A Rough legged Buzzard had been seen earlier quartering the moor distantly over the valley. Although cold it was bright and if anything moved over the ridge we would certainly be aware.

However, it was not in the distance that my guest was looking. He was gazing no further than a couple of metres from where we had parked. Sat quietly dozing among the heather was a female Red Grouse magically camouflaged to her surroundings.

Red Grouse


I couldn’t resist

When you spend a little time with such an enigmatic species like a Ring Ouzel it’s difficult to stop taking photographs. After the photo of the male I posted a few days ago I thought I’d pop up a shot of the female (type) that also came into the garden this week. However… I just couldn’t resist posting a few more of that corking male too. There’s just something about them that mystifies me.

Ring Ousel

Ring Ousel 1 Ring Ousel 2 Ring Ousel 3


Just so lucky

It’s awful isn’t it? That feeling of missing out can sometimes leave you immensely deflated.

Having seen Andy’s tweet saying he’d had a Ring Ouzel in the garden down the road I thought I’d better get out and see what else was planning to spend the rest of Wednesday evening here on the hill. As I walked from the door the clatter of a Ring Ouzel disappearing over the hedge and heading high to the west was enough to convince me I’d made the right decision.

Out onto the lane and a further three came from the trees and headed north. We had a fall of Rousels! They’re always so timid these thrushes. It’s hard to get close and the few shots I got of these birds were of their rear ends disappearing into the distance.

I walked for another half hour or so and was watching a cluster of Wheatear on the ploughed field when a text burst onto my phone. It was from Sharon. It read; ‘Female Ring Ouzel bathing in the pond’; Bugger!

My speed hastened and I got back soon after but it had gone. Photography opportunity missed. Despite a vigil looking out over the pond until dark just a Blackbird came into bathe. We’ve had Ring Ouzels in the garden before but never bathing in the pond and you could wait a lifetime for that to happen again. A moment not to be topped and it had passed me by. Not to worry, Sharon had seen it and she was happy.

It was only the following morning as I glanced out over the garden that I saw a corking male had come into bathe! … and… a female too! Apparently lightening does strike twice!

Ring Ousel


Out in the cold

At the same time as a humpback was frolicking off Norfolk we were atop Cairngorm looking for the mountain specialities. As we scanned the mountain top for Ptarmigan the sixty mile an hour wind carried frozen snow that peppered our faces like gunshot. Finding the snug leeside of the ski lift was essential for doing any bird watching.

Despite the arctic conditions a pair of Snow Buntings fluttered down the mountain as if it were a summers day. Perching atop the crusted snow a few yards away they began to search for the odd seedy morsel totally unconcerned by the skiers or us.

2015 04 12 Snow Bunting Cairngorm Scotland_Z5A4988


Humpback off Norfolk

It always happens when you aren’t there doesn’t it? On Sunday the 12th April as I was stood at the top of Cairngorm watching Snow Buntings and looking for Ptarmigan Kayn Forbes was lucky enough to film a cetacean in difficult windy conditions off Kelling.

Initially the still from the footage broadcast on twitter did look something like an Orca; but the markings and supposed body shading was all wrong for that species. Orca has occurred off Norfolk in the distant past but no proven recent records exist. (two recent records were unproven) Orca is not currently showing on the Norfolk mammal list but on historical evidence it will be shorty … a paper has been submitted for publication in the next Norfolk Bird and Mammal Report giving undeniable evidence of a record in the late 1800’s. Since the paper was written even older records have come to light so Orca must be a distinct possibility again off Norfolk at some point in the future.

Kayn’s video shows a large animal tail slapping at 5secs, 37secs, 1:12secs and 1:59secs. Blue Fin Tuna (very rare now) and Basking Shark (yes they do breach!) can be eliminated as on two occasions (53secs and 1:41secs) in the video a distinct blow can be seen – these things are always difficult to see in strong winds and to be fair Kayn did well to get footage at all given the obvious distance and choppy conditions. A further back arch giving an impression of Humpback can be seen at 1:42secs just after the second blow. Tail shape also seems to give an impression of Humpback and the tail slapping behaviour is quite typical of that species.

Although not definitive I think we can say Norfolk has had a humpback heading west off the north shore this last weekend. Cracking sighting that I wish I’d been there to see.

Back Arch Humpback

copywrite to Kayn Forbes



One thing about Norfolk is that it has a high concentration of good naturalists. It always has had too. In some ongoing research I’m running into these naturalists of the past from time to time; Patterson, Sowerby, Marsham etc … all names from different eras but they had something in common – they all belonged to the NNNS – The Norfolk and Norwich Naturalist’s Society. A charity dedicated to conserving the county’s wildlife for the past 145 years.

For £20 a year you can be a member of this charity too. Benefits include a free copy of Norfolk’s ‘Bird and Mammal Report’ – which retails at £12 – one of, if not, THE best in the country, a free copy of ‘The Transactions’ a collection of papers on research and surveys and free (or heavily discounted) copies of ‘one-off’ publications issued from time to time. The last one just issued is “Hidden Lives: Discovering a hidden world of parasitic animals in East Anglia“, by Graham Kearn. There’s also a quarterly newsletter called ‘Natterjack’ issued free to members. You would be hard pressed to spend £20 more wisely. Here’s the website. I’d strongly urge you to join even if you live in another part of the UK. If you live in Norfolk it should be a given.

The website has links to the Facebook page and also species guides – take a look, I think you’ll like what you see. Oh! and did I mention membership entitles you to free entry to indoor and outdoor field meetings and membership covers everyone at the same address.

2013 B&M Report

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Apr 2015


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