Posts Tagged ‘birds


Australian Round-up

If you fancy taking a break from the winter weather we’re experiencing here in the UK you can pay a visit to the ‘latest’ section of the Wildcatch Photography site. A number of photos from my recent Australian trip have been posted. They are sure to warm you through as you sip your hot chocolate. I hope you enjoy them.


Breckland Round-up

Although I only advertised one trip to Breckland this month, I ended up doing several due to demand.

I thought I’d give a bit of a round-up for all my customers.

Some of the classics gave excellent views; Goshawk were not difficult at all again this year and Woodlark could often be heard singing before we left the car! Lesser spotted Woodpecker were more difficult – unusually when we saw them they were silent and when we could hear them they were so far in dense woodland we couldn’t see them. Firecrests were there but not yet as active as they can be. Hawfinch didn’t show on all occassions and were in relatively small numbers compared with last year. I wonder why that is when numbers are seemingly everywhere else in the county after a continental influx. Crossbills are in short supply but again we did see them although they are a very nomadic species. A bonus this year is of course was the Parrot Crossbill flock that has been floating around Santon Downham. Starling murmurations were at their peak last week – I couldn’t be sure but I reckon on Sunday last we watched close to 500,000 birds coming in to roost right at the side of us. The sight, sound … and smell of them will live long in the memory. All good value birds with a few Otters, Hares, Roe Deer and Reeve’s Muntjac all putting in an appearance. Rabbit numbers seem to have decreased everywhere of late. RHD2, the new viral strain from the continent, has obviously taken a hold. I do hope this does not have an effect on the Stone Curlew population which thrive on the rabbit grazed short swards of our heaths.

Anyways, all that aside, I thought I’d show another photo of the Parrot Crossbills … just because I like them so much!

Next years tour to Breckland is already on the website – Book Early!


Jurassic Coast

Earlier this month I took a hike to the south coast with some guests for a tour in Dorset. A series of nature walks gave us some great Nightjar views, a Fox with cubs, some rare orchids, a family of Polecats put on a fatal performance; we had some wonderful seabirds and mammals and that elusive reptile the Sand Lizard gave us a few sightings. A few photos follow. Sadly I shan’t be running this tour next year but it will make an appearance in the future I’m sure.

Dartford Warbler

Garden Warbler

Marbled White

Musk Orchid

Pyramidal Orchid

Rosel’s Bush Cricket

Wall Lizard

Great Green Bush Cricket


Black Darter

Bog Ashphodel

Common Tern

Keeled Skimmer

Rose Chafer


Wolf Spider

Brown Long eared Bat

Harlequin Ladybird

Ruddy Darter

Small Red Damselfly


Unhappy of Northrepps regarding Capercaillie

The results of the fifth national survey of Capercaillie undertaken from November to March 2015/16 by the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage reveals the population is at a very low level. The decline is something I have noticed for some time. I think on balance the RSPB do a good job but certainly at Loch Garten in Scotland investment of our subscriptions falls well short of what in my opinion it should. I wrote to the trustees of the RSPB in April of this year. Below is my letter and their reply. I’d be interested in your thoughts. What do you think should be done?

Professor Steve Ormerod FIEEM
Chairman RSPB 2 Lochside View Edinburgh Park Edinburgh EH12 9DH

22nd April 2017

Official Complaint

Dear Sir,

For the past ten years I have been running a small wildlife tour business based in Norfolk. Each April I have taken a small number of people to Scotland, typically only four or five guests on each occasion. In the course of our tours we have visited the Loch Garten RSPB reserve. Over time I have seen Capercaille numbers gradually fall with sightings becoming less commonplace.

I have always, and will continue to be, responsible; ensuring my guests only view Capercaille at organised watches. As you will know one of the main causes of decline in the Capercaille numbers is disturbance. I feel the RSPB has been complicit in this decline. I view organised watches during the breeding season as essential in maintaining a healthy population.

The hide at Garten is nothing less than a disgrace. It falls well short of being fit for purpose. It is out of date, being built/improved at a time when numbers of visitors were well short of what they are now at the morning Caper Watches. The access to hide viewing windows is therefore a scramble. The viewing windows themselves fall well short of being practical; some being inconceivably small and at simply unsuitable heights.

This has an influence on visitors. I know, I’ve talked to them. I have seen visitors walk out of the early morning Capercaille watches having seen the viewing facilities only to travel to other parts of the forest and enter areas on tracks. This disturbance is unacceptable and of course potentially illegal. The RSPB has a role to play in improving facilities at the Garten hide to avoid this.

The viewing facilities could easily, and relatively cheaply, be improved at the hide. The windows could be made larger and more conventional. To do so would not affect the Ospreys cf the hides at Loch of Lowes. The good internal height of the hide is a blessing. It could easily be fully utilised by way of an internal platform/mezzanine floor making additional viewing positions possible. This would make Capercaillie watching much more successful enabling viewers to look down into the heather to see otherwise hidden birds. Alterations could be done in winter and would for the main part be internal so would not be influenced by bad weather or absent Ospreys.

I realise that the Capercailles will lek in areas where they want to and not necessarily in front of the hide but improvements will enable a better chance of seeing wandering birds if leking is not conducted in the immediate area.

Nothing I have said here is intended to infer anything derogatory regarding the very patient and dedicated volunteers who do nothing short of a miracle in doing the best they can with poor facilities .

I also feel with the falling number of birds in Abernethy that a reintroduction programme should be considered. Are plans in place for this already?

When the RSPB purchased Abernethy and asked for donations I contributed a not inconsiderable amount to assist. I have supported the RSPB and will continue to do so. However, I think now is the time to take some positive action so we can all continue to see Capercaille in Abernethy.

The RSPB has a duty to act … and to act now!

I await your response.

Carl Chapman
Wildlife Tours and Education

Here is the reply

RSPB Scotland

Mr C Chapman

Wildlife Tours and Education
Falcon Cottage 28 Hungry Hill Northrepps Cromer Norfolk NR270LN

3 May 2017

Dear Mr Chapman

Official Complaint

Thank you for your letter to our Chairman, dated 22 April 2017, which he has asked me to respond to.
Before turning to the points you raised, may I start by thanking you for your original support for the
acquisition of Abernethy, back in the late 1980s. Such support was vital, not just in securing this
magnificent reserve for future generations, but also for the sense it gave the RSPB of a mandate to
manage a major Highland Estate for conservation. The fact that so many individual supporters enabled
the acquisition of Abernethy continues, to this day, to validate our management work in the Highlands,
providing for a spectacular diversity of species, not least the capercaillie, to which you refer.

I would also like to applaud your clear desire for, and championing of, wildlife viewing that does not
threaten, disturb or compromise the very species that people wish to see. This is such an important
principle; regrettably, not all who partake in wildlife viewing do so with such awareness and care.

In my reading of your letter, I hope that I have correctly picked up on three key themes. First, a concern
about the viewing facility at Loch Garten, and whether it is fit for purpose; second, a comment on the
decreasing reliability of capercaillie viewing opportunities at Caper-watch, and third, .a suggestion that
reintroduction of capercaillie to Abernethy may be a way forward. I will deal with each of these, in turn,
and in doing so trust that I will address your main concerns.

The restricted viewing at the Osprey Centre is something which we have been aware of for some time,
and we do occasionally get comments about it. It’s perhaps worth bearing in mind that, at the time of the
original construction, we could not have anticipated the opportunity that subsequently arose, to view
capercaillie. This was sheer good fortune, on which we happily capitalised for the benefit ,of the wider
capercaillie population. The original design for the Centre was to enable osprey viewing, for which
disturbance avoidance was – and continues to be – our prime concern. That said, we are currently in the
middle of a significant review of the Osprey Centre viewing provision, and are aware of the potential for
improvements. It is therefore useful to have your observations. As you suggest, we have also
considered a mezzanine viewing area and, whilst not impossible, this poses some significant challenges.
It remains ‘in the mix’ for things that we will consider. Finally on this point, the cost of making such
improvements is on our minds, and we will need to see what funding we can secure to enable the

Five or six years ago, one might have had an 80% chance of seeing capercaillie at Caper-watch. Over
the past few years, this has declined markedly, such that to date in 2017 we had only one successful
morning, with a very brief sighting of a capercaillie. We are as disappointed about this as everyone else.
We see Caper-watch as an important conservation tool, providing an alternative to the irresponsible and
illegal viewing of capercaillie, which you so eloquently expressed in your letter. In June, the team is
meeting to review what we will do with Caper-watch. In 2016 and 2017, we removed all entry fees, to
encourage people to visit, rather than disturb lekking birds elsewhere. However, if people are
unsuccessful – as the vast majority have been in the current season – that continues to be a bad advert!

Our current thinking about Caper-watch is that the issue is not the quality of the viewing facility at the
Osprey Centre, but two other factors. The first factor is that the population at Abernethy has declined,
principally due to poor productivity. We believe this is largely driven by consistently poor (cold, wet)
weather in June (when chicks hatch), and possibly in the spring when hens are getting into condition for
breeding. We have been undertaking significant habitat management work to improve habitat for
capercaillie, with some mixed success. The second factor is that we have some evidence that the centre
of this modest lek has moved away from the area in front of the Osprey Centre. It is common for leks to
move hundreds of metres – perhaps because a new Alpha male adopts a different stance, around which
the other males then become centred; or perhaps because there is a concentration of females in a new
location. The CCTV cameras that we have at the Centre enable us to scan an area well beyond the view
seen direct from the Centre. We are therefore confident that it is not the visibility of the birds that is the
issue at Caper-watch, but the absence of the birds themselves.

In this respect, the best we can do for the birds is to provide them with the best conditions to establish a
strong lek. Where they choose to centre that lek is up to them (and a mystery to us!). We can but hope
that they elect to return to the bog in front of the Centre. All of this, and other factors, will come into play
when we consider the future of Caper-watch in the months ahead.

Now your final point re introduction of capercaillie to Abernethy. There is a national Capercaillie Group
which has been considering this issue in the context of a contracting capercaillie range in Scotland. In

the view of that group, Capercaillie translocation in Strathspey is not currently under active consideration.
This is principally due to the fact that any project of this sort would not meet the IUCN1 quidellnes”, e.g.
that the species is functionally extinct, that there is a clear problem with its genetics and thus population
viability, and that natural re-colonisation is unlikely etc. While the capercaillie populations of individual
forests do fluctuate, the overall Strathspey ‘meta-population’ (of which Abernethy is a part) is stable or
possibly increasing.

We can all hope that the Osprey Centre capercaillie lek will recover, and will therefore continue to provide
an opportunity for ‘safe’ viewing of capercaillie. If that does not happen, we – and others – will continue
to press birdwatchers to view capercaillie responsibly. Some groups have secured agreements for
access to areas of forest in the breeding season, where capercaillie are often seen. The alternative is for
people to try and see capercaillie in the autumn, when they are far less sensitive to disturbance. The
challenge there, however, is that most people have their single trip to the Highlands in spring, and
capercaillie are firmly on their list.

My apologies for such a lengthy reply, but your questions have explored a complex issue, and I was keen
to give you as comprehensive an answer as possible. Whilst I may not have satisfied all your concerns, I
hope you can see that we are aware of such views and are striving to improve the situation by all
reasonable means.

1 IUCN – International Union for the Conservation of Nature

2 https:!/


Sign off withheld


UK Mammal Tour 2018

Just one of the moments from our 2017 UK Mammal Tour last month. Download the itinerary for next years tour here


A Pair of Dotterel

It’s par for the course that golfers and bird photographers don’t always hit it off. A couple of Dotterel that turned up at the Sheringham course recently saw the patience of a few driven quite far. Some photographers had the balls to venture a little closer than others to bag a shot; leaving those that stopped a fair – way away a little more green with envy. I know … I know, but the situation just teed itself up.

dotterel-1 dotterel-2_z5a6894a dotterel-3


Starling without an abacus

Finally … proof that Rose Coloured Starlings can’t count!

This individual was at Land’s End and was just one of the birds we saw on our tour to Scillies this year. An excellent tour with fantastic scenery, a wonderful hotel, good company and some great birds: 117 species including Garganey, Balearic Shearwaters, Storm Petrel, Red Kite, Osprey, numerous Merlins and Peregrines, Jack Snipe, Grey Phalarope, Mediterranean Gulls, Ring billed Gull, Short eared Owl, Firecrests, Yellow browed Warblers, a rather contentious (what I presume to be an eastern race) Willow Warbler pretending to be an Arctic Warbler, Rose Coloured Starling, Ring Ousel, Black Redstarts, Red flanked Bluetail, Pied Flycatcher, Whinchat, Richards Pipit, Blyth’s Pipit, Short toed Lark, Cirl Bunting, Little Buntings and a Common Rosefinch in addition to four species of cetacean– could you ask for more?

Places on next year’s tour are now open for booking. See details here where a full itinerary can be downloaded … but don’t hesitate to give me a call if you have any questions.

2015 10 16 Rose Coloured Starling Lands End Cornwall_Z5A1900


Times Past

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately; far too much in fact. I’m missing the outdoors. The problem with reading old Norfolk bird and mammal reports to extract details about cetacean is that I get easily distracted.

What I find amazing is how things have changed in the last 50 years:

  • In the 1950’s and 60’s there seems to have been regular trips out to Scroby Sands to monitor the tern population. Does that get done today?
  • In 1956 birders went to great lengths to protect details of what was thought to be the first Collared Dove nest. In fact they had bred in 1955.
  • In 1962 the sea was much under watched. There were only 4 reports of Harbour Porpoise in the county – compare that to 2014’s 210 sightings of over 300 individuals
  • In 1954 there were 10 winter records of Spotted Crake – are they gone, do they winter elsewhere or are we overlooking them?
  • May 12th 1964 westward passage at Cley of 300 Turtle Doves – I don’t think I have seen a total of 300 Turtle Doves in my lifetime.
  • Twelve breeding pairs of Red backed Shrike scattered around Norfolk in 1961
  • 28 Fulmars on the cliffs at Cromer in 1960 – with the collapse of the fishing industry I think Fulmars will continue to contract their range
  • In 1963 there must have been over 100 Smew in the county – no doubt a cold, cold winter
  • We tend to think of Golden Oriole as a lost Norfolk breeder but in 1965 there were just two sightings – perhaps we have always been on the edge of its range.
  • The 1959 entry of Pomatorhine Skua takes a deep breath to even say
  • In the 1955 report there’s an excellent photo of two Greater black Backed Gulls quarrelling over a dead Wader. The Hooded Crow in the photo doesn’t even get a mention. Entry in the systematic list states it was abundant on the coast after 24th October
  • In 1960 Coypu had reached pest proportions. 400 per year were being killed on the A47 between Great Yarmouth and Acle. In 1959 they had spread from the broads and were breeding in the cliffs at Trimingham.

The accompanying photo is of a Coypu I took in the Camargue some years ago which has a story of its own. I had crept underneath the front of my car to photograph it much to the alarm of a passing French lady who when she saw my legs sticking out into the road presumable thought I had been hit by the vehicle!

Coypu IMG_3414


One long holiday


This little fella was hanging around on the hill here at Northrepps the other day. He had not long fledged and still thought he had to wait for his parents to come by and feed him so they were trying to coax him into the air to catch his own dinner.

Very soon he’ll be making his way south through Europe across the Mediterranean and into Africa. From there he’ll cross the Sahara and down through Angola and Namibia into South Africa for the winter. I hope he makes it.






The Black Heron

I don’t do reviews of accommodation… but … if you’re going to California birding you would do a lot worse than calling in to see Bill and Marmie at the Black Heron.

Situated close to Point Reyes Station it’s well placed for migration. A bed and breakfast American style the Black Heron sits in its own grounds surrounded by prime ranching ground. From the five species of Woodpecker to the Californian Towees and the ever present American Robins and Wild Turkeys on the front field to the colony of Black crowned Night Herons at the end of the drive and the Hooded Mergansers on the pond it really is a place to spend a few days. Just a stone’s throw from nesting Snowy Plovers, a colony of Steller’s Sea Lions, Elephant Seals, Guaranteed Tule Elk and migrating Grey Whales and you have a place made in heaven.

Black crowned Night Heron

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Aug 2022


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