2018 Bird Highlights

At the start of the year, due to lack of finances, I decided to give up my rare bird alert pager.  This device would give me up to the minute information on the location of rare birds around the country and scarce birds in my county.  Having had the pager for the best part of twenty years it felt strange going out without it in my pocket.

The bad thing about going to see rare birds (twitching) is the crowds.  Back in the day it was the same faces, you got to know everyone.  Now it’s like a rugby scrum, madness.  So in a way I’m glad to just do my own thing, I’ve seen over 400 species in the UK, not really bothered if I notch up any more, plus I appreciate the commoner birds more.

March kicked off with the ‘Beast from the East’ a snow storm that blocked local roads keeping me from going to work (how sad lol). It also brought Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris) to the garden
The weather was so severe that two Woodcocks (Scolopax rusticola) were forced to look for worms in my lawn
And even crazier this Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) pitched up on the front lawn. A very definite first for the garden!
As the weather improved the local Barn Owl (Tyto alba) searched the meadows
Mealy Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) the highlight of a day at Sculthorpe Moor NR
Chiffchaff (Phyllloscopus collybita) in the garden weeping willow. Will it head south or stay the winter? Well I’ve not seen them since the autumn
Lone Dunlin (Calidris alpina) in the shore pool at Salthouse reflected my mood that day
I just had to finish with another showing of the hovering male Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) at Holkham Marshes
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Let Us Prey

What more magnificent sight is there in birdwatching than a majestic bird of prey cruising high up on the thermals in a clear blue sky.  These are fascinating creatures.  The fascination being that you rarely see that many and opportunities to study them up close are very few and far between.  However, not everyone shares my delight in seeing a raptor.  There are those who would seek to destroy the adults and nests because they have the audacity to eat their precious grouse, pheasants or racing pigeons.  This is despite these birds of prey being fully protected by law.

Enjoy some shots of these wonderful birds taken in recent weeks.

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Fly a Kite! A pair of Red Kites playing over Holkham. Although I’ve had closer images of Kites this is the first time I’ve got a shot of the upper wing

The Red Kite (Milvus milvus) has had a roller coaster existence in the UK.  In the 16th century these birds were so common they fed on waste in the centre of London.  Then they were, by an act of parliament, hunted to the point of extinction.  By the 1960’s there was probably no more than a dozen pairs left in hidden valleys in mid-Wales.  Now fully protected it was decided to re-introduce the Kite to the British countryside.  Eggs were obtained from Scandinavia, hatched, reared and released in the Chilterns.  I well remember an early morning journey along the M40 near High Wycombe many years ago.  Kites were everywhere alongside the motorway even flying into peoples gardens!  The first releases were such a success that other areas were chosen.  These birds have spread and recolonised much of Britain.  Though still rare, I often see them in Norfolk, with their 5 foot (165cm) wingspan and deeply forked russet coloured tail which they twist and turn, they brighten up any day out.

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Buzzard over Sculthorpe

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo).  Thirty years ago to see a Buzzard in Norfolk was an unusual sight.  They have always been common in the West Country and Scotland.  Now they have spread and established and almost any suitable patch of woodland has a pair.  Smaller than the Kite at 4 feet (125cm) these birds are also mostly scavengers feeding on dead or sick animals and birds.

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A female Marsh Harrier at Ormesby Broad

Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus).  This is another bird of prey which, like the Red Kite,  was driven to extinction by the end of the 19th century through persecution and habitat loss.  For me this is a special bird for it re-established itself here in the Norfolk Broads.  What a thrill it was when out on the river to see a Marsh Harrier gliding low over the reed beds, wings held up in it’s distinctive V.  Now thankfully they breed in very good numbers.  Same size as a Buzzard but slimmer wings and a long narrow tail.

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Kestrel hovering at Holkham

Finally a common and familiar bird, the Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus).  Often seen perched on posts or hovering over road side verges.  This Falcon is one species that has benefited from man’s desire for more and more motorways, as the short grass verges are a perfect habitat for it’s rodent prey.  A small bird with a wingspan of 2.5 feet (80cm).

Hope you enjoyed these.  At last we are seeing sense and giving these wonderful birds protection, they are once more gracing our skies.

Happy holidays everyone!  From me, Mrs H and the Lemming!

 

 

 

Hide & Seek

Sometimes when you have a plan things don’t always play the game as it transpired a few weeks back.  The idea, on a nice work free day, was to try and get some images of bird life with a touch of autumn colour.  With this thought in mind I visited Ormesby Broad which has an excellent path through woodland to the water’s edge.  It was looking good when I arrived, warm, still, a nice bit of sun and I could hear and see flocks of birds moving around.  Then a bank of cloud moved in and the birds went and played hide & seek.

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The Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)

With the light gone it was difficult to get any half decent shots.  The cropped image of the Wren really highlights the background noise of using high iso.

The Wren is a tiny bird with a very big voice.  It can be found in all types of habitat and is surprisingly the UK’s commonest breeding bird with over 8.5 million territories.  I say surprising because you never see them in flocks, usually on their own, hence the Latin name Troglodyte which means hermit or cave dweller.  In winter they will gather together to roost communally in tree holes etc.

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Marsh Tit (Poecile palustris)

The only other small bird I managed to photograph was the Marsh Tit.  The image would be ok if it wasn’t for those bright, out of focus leaves on the left.  Sometimes you have to take what you can get, and it is sort of autumnal.  As my teacher would have marked at the bottom of my school report ‘Must try harder’!

Wild Goose Chase

One of the most evocative sights and sounds of late autumn / winter here in Norfolk is the arrival of the Pink-footed Geese.  Huge straggly V’s, known as skeins, stretch across the sky as they leave the safety of their roosts on off-shore sandbanks.  With a great cacophony of calls they head inland to feed on the remains of the sugar beet harvest.

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Masses of geese fill the sky above Salthouse Marshes

The Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus) breeds in Iceland and eastern Greenland.  It is estimated that 1/3 of the world population, over 100,000 birds, spend the winter in Norfolk.  These are very wary birds.  Unlike the Greylags and Canadas of the rivers, broads and park lakes that will mug you for a slice of bread, the Pinks are difficult to approach and photograph.  However at Holkham Fresh Marsh they seem to tolerate the movement of people.

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Pink-feet (yes they have pink feet) on Holkham Fresh Marsh

There are other species of geese that winter here.  From western Siberia come several thousand Brent Geese (Branta bernicla).  This is the dark bellied race, they are the smallest of geese no bigger than some ducks.  The Brents are mostly confined to the coast feeding on eelgrass.  They will, to the annoyance of farmers, venture on to nearby fields of winter wheat.

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Brent Geese on Holkham Salt Marsh

If you plan your day well you could also see Taiga Bean Geese and Whitefront in the Yare valley east of Norwich.  You may, in the vast flocks of Pinks, pick out some Barnacle Geese or maybe a Tundra Bean Goose. If you are really lucky you could find a vagrant Snow Goose or Ross’s Goose.  In past years I have even been fortunate to see rarities like a Red Breasted and a Lesser Whitefront Goose all in the beautiful County of Norfolk UK.

 

 

Windhover

The small falcon banked around to face the wind.  Tail fanned and long pointed wings flickering, appearing to hover in mid air.  Head stock still, the keen eyes scouring the marsh for signs of rodents.

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A male Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), Holkham Fresh Marsh 30.11.18

Nikon D5300, Tamron 70-300 @300mm, iso 250, 1/800sec, f10

Chaffinch

Somewhat surprisingly the second commonest UK breeding bird is the Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) with an estimated 6.2 million pairs.  This number is boosted in the winter by migrants from the continent who find seeds hard to come by.  A small bird, about 5.5 inches long (14.5cm) it has a lovely song and a finc finc call.  In Norfolk it was called the ‘Spink’ after it’s call.  They can be seen in flocks in woodland, farmland, parks and gardens where seeds can be found.

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They may be common but they are still an attractive species. This is the male, I like the way the colours of the woodland background mirror those of the bird

Feeling Blue?…..

…..Not anymore.  After my recent excursion to Manchester it was a real pleasure to make the most of Sunday’s sunshine and re-visit Sculthorpe Moor NR.  Sitting in the tower hide you are at eye level, and almost touching distance, of the woodland birds as they come to visit the feeders.

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Blue Tit at Sculthorpe

Here is a species most in Europe will be familiar with.  The Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus) is a frequent visitor to gardens.  This is a small bird only 4.5 inches (12cm) long.  They feed mainly on insects but will turn to seeds as these become scarce in colder months.  In the winter the Blue Tit will join with others of the Parus family to form big groups searching for food, constantly on the move and all keeping in contact with high pitched see see calls.  The advantage of being in groups is more eyes can detect predators.