Wednesday, 23 December 2015

North Norfolk

Hello, here's my post from last week's trip the north Norfolk coast. I was a bit hesitant to put it up because I really failed on the photo front, but the birds themselves were so great that they deserve to be shown/talked about. I arrived on Tuesday and left on Friday so had two proper days in the field. Weather was... yuck. Grey and dingy, brooding clouds everywhere, unseasonably mild.

Day 1, and Nigel and I went to Cley in search of a Grey Phalarope on the marsh. Birders were in situ when we arrived and pointed out the phalarope. Nigel got his scope on it and we watched it pottering along the shore beside one of the tiny pools. It was too distant for ANY photo, which is unusual... but I couldn't even find it in my bins let alone through the camera. However, it was nice enough through the scope. On the opposite side of the bank there was a big reedbed, from which the occasional muffled 'ping' emerged and the occasional Bearded Tit popped up for a microsecond. There were plenty of ducks on the marsh, the expected Teals, Wigeons and Gadwalls, a Pintail or two. A flock of Lapwings swirled overhead, and then a flock of Golden Plovers did the same thing.

We drove on to a spot called Gun Hill on the coast near Burnham Overy Staithe to see if we could find the three Shore Larks reported there. The walk coastwards was extremely muddy and really a wellies situation but we squelched onwards. We bumped into the artist Nik Borrow en route (he was sensibly be-wellied) and passed the time of day with him and his two companions for a little while - they had seen the Shore Larks. Hurrah! We continued, eventually leaving the muddy track for a raised bank which was a bit more manageable underfoot.

The path was raised because all around was now muddy saltmarsh, complete with waders. We saw Redshanks, Dunlins and a few Grey Plovers, including this one. At some point it dawned on me that we were on the same long-distance coast path that I'd visited and written about on a press trip more than 10 years ago.

We finally emerged onto the dunes. The tide was well out and there was a nice obvious strandline. We walked west towards the point where the channel of the river Burn (I think) enters the sea, noting a Curlew splashing happily around in a small pool. We also noted a couple of birders, whom Nigel waylaid for precise Shore Lark directions. When we got to the point they'd described, there were the larks, moving in a tight little group. I managed to get reasonably close to them at times but the light was ghastly.

Here are photos anyway. What beautiful little birds. They were very quiet and methodical as they scoured the strandline.

The birders had also told us there was a Slavonian Grebe in the river channel, so we carried on to look for that. The first swimming/diving entity we found in the channels was not a grebe but a Red-breasted Merganser, and so was the second. But then we located the Slav, looking extremely dapper in its black-and-white winter kit. Both mergs and grebe were too far off for pics.

Perhaps wishing to make up for the shortcomings of their fellow birds, these two Knots by the channel did allow quite close approach.

The walk back brought another Shore Lark encounter...

... while on the marsh was another Curlew.

We had to wade along the muddy track once again, this time compensated by a big and quite close flock of Brent Geese, and a flyover Hen Harrier.

Day 2, and we were joined by Nigel's friend Chris. We had considered going all the way to Snettisham to look for the Pallid Harrier that's been there for some weeks, but it hadn't been reported from Snettisham the day before, there was just one report from a random field a few miles away from there. So instead we went all the way to King's Lynn to look for an Iceland Gull. We found it almost at once by the river, sitting glumly on a pile of mud with Herring Gulls, and looking bizarrely large alongside them.

Despite its bigness it's clearly an Iceland not a Glaucous, with that dainty head and bill. It's a first-winter, and it actually stood out a mile though that's not really obvious in this very grey photo.

We stuck around for a while and eventually were rewarded with flight views.

We then decided to head to Flitcham and the random rural spot where the Pallid Harrier had been reported from the day before. The lucky birder who'd seen it had been in a little bird hide attached to a farm. We found the farm and then the hide without trouble, but the view it offered wasn't too inspiring. It overlooked a small pool full of Teals, and a pair of Egyptian Geese stood guard nearby. We stayed about 10 minutes then left, intending to head east to Docking and a Rough-legged Buzzard.

We had just begun to drive down the lane, and I think I was checking my phone, when the two gents in the front of the car shouted 'Harrier!' and I looked up to see what was indeed a harrier, flying low over the road away from us and just ahead. We screeched to a halt and jumped out (though Chris then had to jump in again as, typically, a massive tractor picked that moment to appear). Nigel and I had the most amazing close view of the young Pallid flying directly over us, all ginger tummy, boa-ed neck and fabulous banded tail. It headed out over a field and luckily didn't vanish immediately but spent several minutes working along a hedgerow at the back of the field, allowing Chris (who'd managed to get the car off the road) to see it too.

Here's the little beauty. How I wish I could've got the camera on it when it was close, but this is better (miles better) than nothing, and I still can't quite believe how lucky we were to find it.

The field over which it hunted was full of Grey Partridges. And, scanning an adjacent field, I found a ringtail Hen Harrier (what a grey and lumpen bird it seemed after watching the Pallid!). Said field also contained a couple of hares.

The Pallid eventually moved on and so did we, though we stopped again very soon after to check out some mammals in a field, which the guys said were hares and then revised to Muntjacs.

Um, one more try, guys? They were four Roe does and they were not happy about being looked at so we left them to it.

From the hill at Docking we found a birder and under his directions a swirling kettle of five buzzards over a very distant copse. Scope views revealed that one of these five was a nice frosty-looking Rough-legged. Photos? You jest, surely!

Last pic, taken on the drive to Titchwell where we stopped for tea, is part of a massive flock of Pink-footed Geese. The Pinkfeet are so pivotal to the general winter vibe in north Norfolk - I'm sure the resident birders get used to them but it was wonderful to see and hear them everywhere.

And a little postscript - on the day I went back, Nigel went to Cley and saw something even more startling than our Pallid Harrier - a Red-rumped Swallow! 

Sunday, 6 December 2015

A good day for LEOs

Not that I believe in astrology. But Friday was the day that I photographed my first Long-eared Owl so that makes it a good day for Taureans too. I met Phil at West Malling station, and we drove to Dungeness, stopping briefly at a KWT reserve called Quarry Wood, so Phil could meet the warden there and collect a key for the gate (it is very local to him and very underwatched). During the stop I noted a flock of 50+ Fieldfares, and made friends with the warden's very sweet terrier. And then on to Dunge. It was a beautiful day and we were keen to make the most of the few hours of daylight.

I warmed up my out-of-shape photography reflexes on this Carrion Crow, which flew over as we got out of the car.

Two pretty much identical views of the Long-eared Owl that's been here a while now. Its roosting spot is on the far side of the dipping pond. The shots are very cropped as you can't get close to it, but no doubt if it were possible to get closer then someone would've got too close by now and the owl would have left. It must feel safe enough to be roosting almost in plain view. As we watched it, a couple of Peregrines flew overhead but I was too slow to catch them on camera.

The views from the hide revealed the usual array of wildfowl. Actually, there were no Pintails. We found one Smew (no pics) and quite a few Goldeneyes though all were female-types. A Kingfisher showed very well in flight a few times. The water levels were super-high, hence no waders (except Lapwings).

We walked the full loop around the main reserve and didn't see very much - Marsh Harriers (distant), a solitary Stonechat, a Great White Egret at the back of Dengemarsh.

Driving back over to the ARC pit we found a slightly closer GWE, but the ARC itself was almost a no-bird-zone. We heard a couple of Cetti's on the short walk to the hide.

On to the beach. Here are a few Great Black-Backs and Herring Gulls, photographed while Phil tried and failed to purchase some plaice for his tea from the little fish shop by the lighthouse. Moments after this, a Weasel crossed the road, and then we found another when we walked around the Obs - but again no birds to speak of - my hopes for a Black Redstart round the back of the power station were not to be fulfilled.

One of several Pied Wagtails trotting along the power station perimeter wall. Also on this bit of path we met what we thought at first was a group of four birders heading back from the beach hide, but as they got closer we saw that while two of them were indeed birders, the other two were police officers carrying massive guns, though they greeted us with great friendliness. We asked the coppers if they'd seen any Caspian Gulls (they said no) and they asked us if we'd seen any terrorists (we said no). It was all very good-humoured, though quite scary to see their weaponry close-up.

Lots of shingle-shifting work is going on round here. I've put up a photo of a digger in the absence of any bird pics. Not too much was going on at sea, except for the 'patch' which was seething with gulls, but we decided to head to Hythe and look for Purple Sandpipers for the last bit of daylight rather than spend more time here.

At Hythe I was keen to check the strandline as I've been reading about interesting stuff washing up lately - goose barnacles and whatnot. But there wasn't a strandline - they have been combing and raking the shingle. I did find this tragic washed-up casualty though.

The first breakwater was bird-free but we went on to the next and found a few 'Purps' - five in all. The light was really gone by this point but I took a few pics anyway, they are such appealing birds.