Archive for Dec, 2016


That time of year again

The end of another year is almost upon us. Goodbye 2016 and hello 2017. Thinking back through the last twelve months there’s been so many good sightings; so many good times. It really has been a good year.

The Geese and Goosanders on the Solway Tour performed for us as did all the specialities on the April Scotland Tour. The Mull tour was spectacular; eagles, whales and more. Canada leaves Humpbacks breaching through my memories for many years to come. Scilly was a classic. Orchids, butterflies and Nightjars all played a part during the year. So many sightings, so many places.

If I was to choose one moment; one sighting above all others, it would have to be seeing Cuvier’s Beaked Whales in the bay of Biscay. Beautiful, enigmatic, specialised life forms that we can only peek at through tiny keyholes in time before they descend once more to the depths.

Happy New Year… have a good one.





This year has been a great year for Long tailed Ducks off Norfolk. This small group were just a splinter from a larger flock off Titchwell last week.



Dirty Twitching

More reminiscing. Another photo from Grand Manan this summer. A Cedar Waxwing.

Looking at the birds white under-tail coverts, rather than the chestnut of our own ‘Bohemian’ Waxwings was a sort of double reminder. I recall going to Nottingham. It must have been in 1996. God that’s 20 years ago. Early in the year maybe … probably February. My friend Ken Laban and I set off to search the huge flock of about a thousand or more Waxwings for the Cedar Waxwing that had turned up among them. We found it … eventually. The flock was very mobile. After an initial brief glimpse the whole flock took flight but eventually settled a mile or so away on the outskirts of the city in berried bushes surrounding an industrial estate. This  enabled us to have really good views. Those were the days. Nothing like a spot of dirty twitching!



Dusk Lover

Chinese Water Deer are one of those animals that doesn’t like daylight. It’s not until dusk starts to creep into the equation that it start to come alive. I saw this one as I was walking back to the car last week. The day had been unusually mild. It had obviously been laid among the sedges absorbing the warmth from the winter sun. As the shadows got longer it was starting to cool. The deer stood up and shook itself before slipping away behind the vegetation again.

Let me take this opportunity to wish all Letter from Norfolk readers a very Merry Christmas and remind you all we’ve turned a corner …the days are now getting longer!




It’s amazing how you can find simple beauty in simple things. Last week we watched this Black tailed Godwit immersing itself in the water searching for food.



Shopping at Iceland

Passing Salthouse duckpond yesterday I stopped the car and had a good look through the gulls perched seemingly everywhere. One almost immediately stood out from the congeries. There had been an Iceland Gull seen here in recent days … it was back. Stood in short grass the disarray in its plumage was obvious as was it’s reluctance to fly. It also had a gammy leg, was heavy with feather life and spent much of its time with its eyes closed. the bird had obviously seen better days.

Moving the vehicle and walking down the shingle ridge nearby the antics of a 40+ strong flock of Snow Bunting were a delight to watch. On returning to the vehicle the Iceland Gull had moved into the field adjacent to where the car was parked. It was now in longer grass but was closer; although still reluctant to fly.





It was one of those mornings where the sun was just breaking through a mist. Not warm but not cold. As I walked over the dewy mown grass to the bushes at the edge of the beach I could see one or two birds flitting around. It was August and we were on Grand Manan Island in North East Canada.

I stood and waited. There had obviously been a movement overnight. Birds had migrated down from the north and were heading south for the winter. Among the American Robins flying overhead I could make out other birds but they were too far away; I couldn’t identify them. My eyes wandered back to the bushes. The first thing I saw was the bright yellow throat and blue head of a Parula Warbler. My mind was instantly transported back 21 years to the 10th October 1995. I was sat in a small boat being taken to St Agnes. I wanted to look in the parsonage garden, a great place to find migrants. Even before I got there the news broke a Parula had been seen in the trees of the parsonage just below the lighthouse. After landing at the quay and walking double quick time it didn’t take long to get there. Within minutes I was watching my first British Northern Parula. A small warbler sporting a cape of gold over blue upperparts and sparkling white wingbars which coincidentally probably originated not too far from Grand Manan … where I was currently stood.

My eyes tripped to the next movement in the seashore bush. The bright yellow of a Common Yellowthroat filled my optics. Exit 2016, hello 1997. 11th October to be precise. This was ridiculous. I was beginning to feel as though I was in some sort of tardis. Again, on the Isles of Scilly. On the Lower Moors extension. From a well watched bramble I willed a Yellowthroat to venture forth. It did in spectacular style. The collective intake of breath from the assembled crowd was audible as the bird sat on the bush and began to preen. Not a face smacking field guide adult but a subtle washed out 1st winter bird; as are all American Warblers that occur on our shores during autumn.

All wonderful memories of wonderful birds in wonderful surroundings. All firmly filed away in memory.




A leg-up

We went this week to Titchwell … well about a mile away actually, to Choosley Barns. We were looking for the reported Rough legged Buzzard. After a few false alarms a potential candidate was sat atop a tree silhouetted against the skyline facing away from us. It appeared to have a white rump/tail. A good indicator of a Rough legged. We moved the vehicle around a few roads to get a better view with the sun behind us. By the time we got into position the bird had hopped down the tree and shrouded itself among twigs and was completely obscured.

A shrill buzzard like whistle to attract the birds attention and it hopped up again to the top branch. Although distant it’s true identity became apparent. Although the bird was very white it had no dark belly and it had more brown on it than it should have had. In addition the tail was barred although it did have some white in it; insufficient however to give it Rough legged status. The picture below is Bob Cobbold’s digiscoped photograph he took as we watched the bird. Thank you Bob.

I feel we get an influx in winter of whiter continental birds. This is a purely speculative comment but when visiting France in winter they do seem to get a larger proportion of spectacularly white Common Buzzards.

Of course there may have been/still be a Rough legged Buzzard at Choosley. In our short time there this week we didn’t see one, but we did see an unusually pale Common Buzzard that could be a pitfall for the unwary.


Copywrite: Bob Cobbold


For Fun

As we get past mid December it starts to get quiet for me. Or at least it does on the tour front. The days are still busy but on catch-up work; admin that’s been in a state of comatose on the edge of my desk for the past season is now resuscitated and given a sharp fist in the chest. However, no matter how busy I am if I sit down at the laptop I can’t help daydreaming and looking at some of the photos I took during the summer.

I came across this one I took in the Bay of Fundy during August. There’s just something wonderful about seeing a humpback breach; throwing it’s entire bulk from the water. How on earth do they manage to do that. I liked the photo not just for the whale and what it was doing but for the setting; the arching spray, a gently rippling sea, blue sky and white fluffy clouds and Grand Manan Island in the distance. It sort of set the scene. It was a good reminder of a special time.

On a recent talk I did on cetaceans for the North East Norfolk Bird Club I was asked, by the youngest member of the audience, why whales breach. It’s difficult to say with any certainty. It could be to dislodge annoying parasites and barnacles. It could be a way of communication with other whales – after all the sound they make on re-entering the sea is like the report of a cannon. It could be part of their display or it could just be for the sheer hell of it … for fun!




He knew I was there. Ears swept back; eyes bulging.  Probably our most enigmatic animal, the Hare. He was sat low, crouched, waiting for me to go, which I duly did so he could continue feeding.


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Dec 2016


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