Friday, 22 June 2012

Norfolk - final odds and ends

Last Norfolk post. This one covers several places, in chronological order (sort of).

On the way from home up to our cottage, we visited Hickling Broad, a Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve. I have fond memories of seeing my first Swallowtails here in 1995, but today it was grey, cold and very windy, and we saw very little, except this slightly dazed-looking Wood Mouse. Walking round the reserve rang no bells whatsoever so I think there've been a few changes since 1995. Still, I imagine it's lovely on a sunny day.

A bit of wildlife from around the cottage. The moth is a Buff Ermine, found on the wall the morning after I'd left a light on all night. The Red-legged Partridge was one of a pair that frequented the farm next door to the cottage, and the Swallow was one of a pair (or maybe two pairs) nesting in the farm buildings. Best wildlife in the garden though, was the Barn Owl that Rob saw flying right past the conservatory one evening.

On our first full day we went to RSPB Strumpshaw Fen in the morning. I've already posted the dragonfly photos from there, but here's a few more. Black-headed Gull, against an ominous sky (it actually didn't rain though). A lovely male Brimstone seen just outside the loos. And look at this - a mammal lifer! My first Chinese Water Deer, running away. It was in the field on the far side of the dragon ditch. I had the Bigmac macro lens at the time which is why my photos of the distant deer are so exceptionally bad.

On the Sunday afternoon we went for a walk along the sandy beach at Overstrand, which was very pleasant although rather lacking in wildlife. I include this sequence of a Herring Gull moving another Herring Gull from its intended perch because it made me laugh.

Monday was Titchwell, Tuesday was Blakeney and Cley, and Wednesday was Catfield Fen. Then on Thursday we went into Norwich. This was partly because Rob's nearly-new portable hard drive had failed and he wanted to go to PC World to get a replacement, but we also fancied visiting Norwich Cathedral, to take in its general magnificence and to see if we could get a look at the Peregrines nesting there.

Here's the cathedral. It is indeed magnificent (considerably more so than PC World). The Peregrine nestbox is halfway up the spire - good photos were never going to be on the cards.

Still, I could get recognisable photos with my birding lens (Rob was kicking himself for not having brought the Sigmonster). The bird coming in with prey is the male (according to the folk at the pointing-out-the-Peregrines stand).

Just before we had to rush back to the car (before our two hours of free parking at Morrisons expired), the male Peregrine treated us to a lovely close fly-by.

Thursday night was Cley once again. And then on Friday we had rain, lots of it. By the time it finally stopped and things brightened up, it was mid-afternoon, and we dithered over what, if anything, to do with the rest of the day. We finally decided to go to Sculthorpe Moor, the Hawk and Owl Trust reserve near Fakenham, and got there at about 5pm.

This is a small but wildlife-packed reserve of woodland and reedbed, with three hides and lots of feeding stations. The first hide overlooked woodland, and while the feeding station had attracted Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges there was not enough light for worthwhile photos. We went on to the Fen hide, and were soon photographing two lovely Bullfinches (plus swarms of Chaffinches and a couple of Greenfinches) on the bird table there.

Beyond the bird table is an expanse of reedbed, containing a Marsh Harrier nest. We saw both adults coming and going, but they were a long way off.

With one more hide to visit but only an hour before the reserve closed, I left Rob in the Fen hide and went off to the Scrape hide to check it out. On the way I had much closer views of Mother Marsh Harrier, and also saw (distantly) her mate carrying prey and fending off a curious Common Buzzard.

There was little to see from the Scrape hide (in fact hides, there are two side by side) but on the way back I enjoyed views of a distant Barn Owl.

We went home on Saturday, but called in to RSPB Lakenheath Fen on the way. Weather today was very windy indeed, which meant fast-moving clouds overhead and things changing rapidly and frequently from sunny to overcast and back again.

I last visited this place sometime in the early 1990s, to see the Golden Orioles that breed here. Back then there was no reserve, and the Golden Oriole spot (a Poplar wood alongside a river) was surrounded by fields. The RSPB have bought a load of land and turned it into reedbed, marsh and meadow. It's very impressive. On a fine day it must be glorious here, but on our visit the strong winds kept things rather quiet.

We'd not gone far down the trail before we were stopped by this juvenile Jackdaw, whose fearless approach suggests it's a handreared bird that someone released here. After establishing that we had no food on us it went off to investigate the next group of people.

 The first of several Hobbies went over when we'd just passed the first viewpoint.

The next viewpoint overlooked a small lake, in which I noticed a floating stick that seemed to be slowly moving against the wind-stirred ripples. Closer inspection revealed it to be a swimming Grass Snake, quite a sizeable one too. From the same viewpoint I photographed this male Marsh Harrier.

The reserve trail joined up with a public footpath along the Little Ouse. This riverside path is wonderful, the wide banks thick with meadowy vegetation. Here and there were small pools by the river, one of which contained three Mute Swans and this Whooper, surely of dubious origin. It looked to have a damaged wing, so may be a wild bird that was unable to migrate north in the spring. It seemed to be having a whale of a time nonetheless.

Hirundines and Swifts worked the grassland, while Common Terns fished the river. This clumsy individual lost its lunch, or maybe dropped it on purpose - it's not exactly a feast after all.

The walk took a couple of hours and was most enjoyable. No orioles today (too windy?) but they are seen regularly, as are Common Cranes. Definitely a reserve to visit again someday.


On the Tuesday of our Norfolk week, we took a seal boat trip to Blakeney Point. We opted for the two-hour trip with an hour on the point - I've never been to Blakeney Point before so was looking forward to this a lot. Weather was dry and not too windy, but grey.

Waiting at Morston quay, I was entertained by the Skylarks whizzing around. Also there were Redshanks, Black-headed Gulls and a Swallow to watch, the latter skimming along a few cm above the ground between the rows of parked cars, before going to its nest inside the little teashop.

Then it was all aboard and we chugged out into Blakeney harbour. All was flat calm (as you'd expect in a harbour) but the little girl sitting opposite us wore an expression of horror all the way, despite her mum and dad on either side comforting her, and no doubt wishing they'd picked something else to do that day.

We reached the long arm of Blakeney Point and chugged along it, while a National Trust lady pointed out various birds. Here's a gang of Sandwich Terns loafing on the beach. Then it was round the corner to view the seals.

Photographing the seals was tricky, as it did actually get a bit choppy here, but we both took so many pics as the boat slowly turned in front of the beach that some were bound to be OK. I think I have the IDs right - Commons at the top then two Greys in the water. But I admit to finding these surprisingly difficult, especially in a front-on view. I have side-on pics of the two individuals in the water and can confirm they have huge Roman noses in profile.

We went back to the other side and disembarked while the boat went back to the quay for an hour (well, most of us did, a few including Terrified Child and family opted to go straight back). The National Trust person suggested we walk to the open sea side via a boardwalk over the dunes, so we did. The dunes were high and rolling, anchored down with lots of Marram Grass, with colourful patches of Thrift, and full of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits.

 It was a good 15-minute yomp across the point to the sea-side so we didn't  have too long there. Here's some of the seabirds seen going by - lots and lots of Sandwich Terns with fish, the occasional Mediterranean Gull and, most surprisingly, a Fulmar which I suppose must belong to the Hunstanton colony, some 25 miles west along the coast. There were also Little Terns fishing but I got no decent pics of them. All too soon it was time to go, and as we chugged back to Morston the sun started to come out.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A patchy interlude

I'm not done posting about Norfolk... not quite sure how to break down the rest of the week's trips, but I'll worry about that later. This post is about my local patch visit this morning, an early one to take full advantage of the day's sunny start.

It seems like only yesterday that I was complaining on Warren Baker's Pittswood blog about not seeing any juvvie Blue Tits this year. Well, that's all changed, because today I saw two. This one was by the visitor centre, pursuing one of its parents through a birch tree.

Great Spotted Woodpeckers were much in evidence all around the trails, though only this one, near the viewing mound, proved photographable.

I went to Tyler hide first. Things were quiet. The Egyptian Goose family, still with seven goslings, were on the far side of the Serengeti along with a mixed bag of Greylags, Canadas and their offspring. On the islands, Little Ringed Plovers and Pied Wagtails were flitting about, and a drake Teal was the only notable duck.

Other wildlife out on the Serengeti - a nearly full-grown Lapwing chick, a fine male Pheasant sitting among the tall Marsh Thistles, and an interestingly two-tone twosome of Rabbits who looked very friendly with each other.

I went on to the Sutton hide but there wasn't much to see from here, and as things were starting to warm up as the sun climbed, I opted to head back and make my way towards the north end of the reserve, where hopefully I'd find some Odonata.

Walking past the patch of grass with the 'beware of the Bee Orchid' sign, I stopped to take a pic of these two - not Bee Orchids but Common Spotteds. Am kicking myself for not moving the leaf in front of the smaller one (mind you, the photo's super-noisy too).

From Willow hide there was almost nothing to see. One Coot, three Mallards, a handful of geese. No sign of the Mute Swans, hopefully they were just lurking in a corner out of view. This Grey Heron and its reflection showed up to provide a bit more interest.

I spent some time trying and failing to photograph Reed Warblers around the hide. From the little dead-end trail overlooking a reedbed I did get some views but no shots. Instead I photographed this fine fellow, the hoverfly Volucella pellucens.

Long Lake next, where I did manage some Reed Warbler photos. No Mute Swan report from here either, I'm afraid, no sign of them. Again, hopefully they were just hiding.

Long Lake was quiet, apart from the incessant squeals of these Coot chicks (there was a third youngster, just out of shot). I went down to the grassy area, and here found lots of inverts to photograph among the now very tall grass.

A snail and a spider. I can't be any more precise than that I'm afraid, if anyone can tell me the species I'd be most grateful. I was very surprised to see the snail out sliming around in direct sunshine. ETA - spider now IDed as Tetragnatha extensa - thank you ShySongbird :)

The damsels were just starting to wake up. From the top - male Common Blue, male Blue-tailed (which was flicking its abdomen about for some reason), rufescens female Blue-tailed, and Azure. No sign of any Red-eyed or Large Red, but I did see a couple of Banded Demoiselles.

Also in the grassy area, I noticed this solitary, small but lovely orchid, which I think is Pyramidal (again, opinions welcome), although I'd thought Pyramidal was a chalky downland species.

Walking back beside Long Lake, on a whim I followed the short concreted path to the lake shore, and straight away saw a Downy Emerald dragonfly hanging over the water. Remembering how much of my life I'd wasted taking blurry photos of these infuriating dragons last summer I nearly carried on walking, but decided that a few more hours wouldn't hurt and sat down on the concrete, camera at the ready.

I don't know if I'd picked a better spot this time, or if the individual dragon was more obliging, or if perhaps I've actually got better at photography...? but I managed some shots quite easily this time. Shutter speed too slow to freeze its wings but that doesn't bother me. Love those green eyes - though the rest of it does have a rather wonky, almost 'cobbled together' look.

On the walk back, I spotted a Common Tern flying along the far side of East Lake, a nice bonus. Near the turning for Carter hide I stopped to photograph a juvenile Robin sunbathing at the start of the East Lake trail, and grabbed a bonus Blackcap.

Besides what's been shown and talked about already, I saw five or so Garden Warblers, heard Long-tailed Tit, saw a distant Sparrowhawk, and glimpsed a short-bodied blue dragonfly which would have been either Black-tailed Skimmer or Broad-bodied Chaser. Oh yes, forgot to mention two mammals - a Fox near Tyler hide (we were rounding a corner at the same time from opposite directions, I gave the poor thing an awful scare), and, rather sadly, a dead Mole on the path between Tyler and Sutton.