Archive for Jan, 2016


Redpoll & Brambling

A couple of nice birds on feeders the other day. A Redpoll and a Brambling which was well on its way to attaining breeding garb.

Brambling Redpoll


Evening hunter

We met an interesting chap from Devon last week. As we were chatting a Barn Owl started to hunt the saltmarsh in the late afternoon sunshine. As we watched it came nearer. Eventually close enough for a shot or two.

Barn Owl


Sinenis -v- Carbo

I photographed this Cormorant sat in sunshine the other day.

We now know the straight drop at the proximal end of the gular pouch as shown here is indicative of ‘sinensis’; Continental cormorant.

carbo’; the British race has a smaller pouch and the lower edge is more aligned with the bill, not at right angles to it. The continental cormorant has therefore a larger gular pouch.

Why has ‘sinensis’ got a larger gular pouch?

One of the uses of the pouch is to loose heat. As the bird pants it uses the airflow over the thin skin and shallow blood vessels to radiate heat. It’s supposition on my part, but perhaps because ‘sinensis’ is from a warmer climate and needs to loose heat more readily … the pouch is larger.

We don’t see ‘carbo’ often in Norfolk now. It turns up more frequently when we visit Wales or Scotland on tour. The continentals have pushed out the British race to the west. Why? Because ‘sinensis’ are from a warmer climate where the breeding season is longer perhaps their natural cycle means they breed earlier in the year than ‘carbo’? First nesters get prime sites. Maybe British Cormorants get pushed out from the best nesting sites so they become less successful breeders. Also perhaps because ‘sinensis’ are from a warmer climate where the norm is a longer breeding season they have time to raise two broods rather than one so they out populate the slower breeding British race? I don’t know – more research required?

What caused the ingress of Continental Cormorants to our shores in the first place? Global warming would seem to be an appropriate fit, wouldn’t it?



At one time we hunted Sperm Whales … now we mourn them

It’s always tragic when something dies, and it’s lamentable that a Sperm Whale had to die on the beach at Hunstanton here in Norfolk on Friday. I have been asked so many questions about this I thought it deserved a special post in Letter from Norfolk.

The stranding was part of a larger event throughout the southern North Sea. I’ve laid out chronologically the strandings below.

8th January two dead Sperm Whales found beached at Wangerooge in Germany

12th January two carcasses seen floating at Heligoland, Germany

12th January five live stranded on Texel in Holland

13th January one was found dead stranded in the mouth of the Weser in Germany with another stranded near Büsum

14th January a dead carcass washed ashore on Texel Holland

22nd January one live stranded at Hunstanton but died that evening two others stranded but refloated themselves on the tide two or perhaps three others seen further out at sea

24th January three stranded on the beach at Skegness in Lincolnshire.

25th January a single Sperm Whale stranded at Wainfleet in Lincolnshire

That makes 17 Sperm Whales in total with possibility of another one still out there – let’s hope it gets to deeper water. It’s possible they were all from the same pod, but that remains inconclusive.

Well done to the British Divers Marine Life Rescue team, coastguards and staff at the Sealife Centre in Hunstanton for staying with the whale on the Norfolk shore until it passed away. Little could be done to help the hapless beast other than keep it wet and wait for the next high tide. It’s even impractical to euthanize such a large creature so sadly it’s a cruel waiting game. The tide had moved the carcass a little further north when I visited it on Saturday. It had come to rest among the skeletal wreck of the Steam Trawler Sheraton.

Sperm Whales are just magnificent creatures, that are superbly adapted to their deep water environment. They think nothing of diving to 2km to hunt for squid; their main food. They have the largest brain of any creature on the planet but despite that they, like us, make mistakes. This mass stranding is not without president. They have happened throughout recorded history; especially in the funnel shaped North Sea.

Males visit the arctic and sub-arctic each summer to feed, leaving the females and young in temperate and sub-tropical waters. The males move back south in late autumn/winter.

Their predetermined natural compass wants to take them SW from the Arctic into the deep waters of the Atlantic. If they go to the east of Scotland by mistake they will end up in the shallow North Sea. Once animals get into the water here that is only 20 to 30m deep their sonar ceases to be able to pick up landmarks so becomes ineffectual. Lost and unable to feed they get confused. Confusion that may be made worse by toxins and plastic litter that these animals eat by mistake. If a Sperm Whale doesn’t eat they dehydrate as all their fluid intake is obtained from the food they eat. If animals stop too long in the Arctic perhaps tempted by warmer temperatures they may run out of food. Unable to eat when they get into the North Sea the result is inevitable. If one whale runs into trouble because they are such a communal animal others will follow to try and help.

These events appear to be happening with increasing frequency. We stopped hunting these animals in the 1970’s and numbers are recovering so maybe that’s why strandings are becoming a more frequent event. Still sad to see such a magnificent leviathan stranded on the rocks at Hunstanton.

Sperm Whale

Better to see one unbridled in the ocean like this … taken in the Azores last year. However, I am heartened by the interest these animals have generated.

Sperm Whale 2


Making a meal of it!

There’s been a few, two maybe three or even four, Mealy Redpolls in among a finch flock at Weybourne this winter. We spent a little time photographing them the other day. Mostly they were distant but eventually after a mornings wait this one came and posed like a professional!

2016 01 19 Mealy Redpoll Weybourne Norfolk_Z5A0221


The Greyest of days

This Grey Phalarope gave us, and others, the run around this week. A flighty young bird if I ever saw one!

I was lucky enough to get a shot of it in defensive posture as a Carrion Crow flew over.

Grey Phalarope.



A ray of sunshine on a day of dead things

I rejoice in the natural world. I don’t normally seek out dead things. It just so happened in the wake of the storm surge we had at the end of last week ‘dead things’ were littered on the beach.

I have never seen so many Sunstars cast up on a high tide. Flatfish were everywhere; as were Starfish and Beaded Anemones. If that wasn’t enough then a Common Cuttlefish, a Harbour Porpoise and for those that want to ‘go large’ a Minke Whale were also brought in by the sea. Most of you will know of the Norfolk Cetacean site. The Harbour Porpoise and Minke Whale are dealt with there Also on the tideline was a Guillemot. Not the usual brown upperparts on this bird; but black Razorbill like feathering. A northern race perhaps? – even seeing this was not the best moment of the day. That came in the form of Miss Nola McCallum. Very pretty without a doubt; but even that was eclipsed by her best attribute. I watched as she knelt aside the guillemot and carefully separated its toes to examine the webbing. Her inquisitive nature and obvious unbridled passion for the natural world filled my heart with hope. Genes no doubt gleaned from her artist and naturalist father, James.


Common Cuttlefish

Beadlet Anemone



A Chinese colourfest

Always colourful and able to cheer up a drab day. Mandarins are just so well named. These were in Suffolk the other week.

Mandarin 1 Mandarin 2


A volery of Long tailed tits

Some of the most charming Long tailed Tits I’ve seen in a while came down to some feeders when we were in a hide last week. All the feeders were inside a chicken mesh cage which excluded squirrels and larger birds. I counted around 25 in or around the cage at one point.

Long tailed Tit




How fat can a Grey Squirrel get?

Grey Squirrel

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Jan 2016


%d bloggers like this: