Home Builders

Thrilling to see a big increase in the number of House Martins (Delichon urbica) in the village street this year.  When we first moved here 29 years ago almost every property had at least one nest under the eaves, our bungalow had one on each gable.  Slowly the population decreased until last year there was only three pairs left.  This reflects a nationwide decline.  In some monitored sites there has been a fall of 65% since the ’60’s.

House Martin approaching the nest site

The reasons for this decline are probably all weather related.  Here in the UK there must be a supply of mud nearby for them to construct their nests.  So if the spring is dry they are unable to build.  Then if it is too wet there will not be enough insects to feed the young.  The Martins over-winter in south and west Africa south of the Sahara and again if the weather is wrong they will suffer high mortalities.

A difference of opinion?

The pair in these images have chosen to build their nest on our neighbour’s property and is viewable from my bedroom window about 20ft away.  The nest will eventually be a complete dome with an entrance hole at the top (remains of a very old nest can be seen).  It is constructed of beak full pellets of mud, up to a thousand in total, and can take ten days to finish.  It will then be lined with feathers.  As I write this the dome is just over half complete but we are experiencing some very wet, windy and cool weather and activity has ceased.  Let’s hope it is a temporary blip.  It will be fun to watch them feeding their young.

A little cuddle and it’s all ok

Nice Weather for Ducks!

Spring is on hold.  Got up this morning, looked outside, mist and rain.  Temperatures are in the 40’sF and the wind straight off the North Sea two miles away.  I am on the verge of throwing my toys out of the pram!  No improvement in the forecast for at least ten days then April will almost be done.  The blossom is coming out and leaves are bursting from their buds but it is far too cold for the new year’s butterflies and dragonflies.

As the saying goes ‘nice weather for ducks’.  So bring on the ducks.  Here are a few that grace our wetlands.

The Wigeon (Anas penelope) One of my favourites. In the winter months big flocks graze the marshes. They have a very distinctive whistling ‘weeoo’ call
Teal (Anas crecca) Our smallest European duck
Gadwall (Anas strepera)
Drake Shoveller (Anas clypeata) Salthouse Marshes
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) The commonest of our ducks

Let’s hope things pick up, I did have lots of plans for spring.

An Anniversary & Upton Fen

Tuesday.  On my notifications wordpress informed me I have been blogging for two years!  Wahey!  Happy birthday to me etc, etc.  I remember so well when I started.  I thought it would be nice to share some of my photos, why keep them to yourself?  Spurred on by the Lemming who has her own blog –  https://crazystupidmusic.wordpress.com/?wref=bif , I searched the internet for advice. The kind man on google said easy, be done in ten minutes!  Don’t make me laugh!  Six hours later and I had somehow managed to cobble together the beginnings of this blog spot.  I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, or the terminology used (still don’t lol) it might as well have been in ancient Greek.  Anyway, we got there and through this medium I have been able to meet some incredible people!  You fellow bloggers inspire me to carry on.  The range of photography out there in wp world is mind blowing.  So a HUGE THANKS to every single one of you!!  12,560 views from 79 Countries WOW!

The day started frosty.  By the time I’d finished the housework (love my days off!) it was warming up nicely to 14c.  Decided to visit a nature reserve about twenty miles away as a recce for the summer and dragonfly potential.  It’s called Upton Fen.  According to my new dragonfly book the Common Hawker can be found there in July.  Common?  not in this part of Britain, anything but!  Found the car park easily enough and set off on a lovely walk through woodland along the banks of a dyke.  This is perfect habitat.  Crossed over the dyke and the path took me through a section of reedbed, through another gate and I was overlooking the Bure Marshes.  The sky was deep blue, no breeze and now about 18c, phew!

Hello Deer!

I should have taken my binoculars or telescope to scan the wetlands.  I could hear a strange call I just could not place and then realised I was being watched!  About thirty yards away was the motionless head of a Chinese Water Deer (Hydropotes inermis).  Originally introduced to Woburn Park in Bedfordshire in 1896 and later Whipsnade in 1930.  These very small deer, about the size of a retriever dog, inevitably escaped along with their cousins the similar Muntjac and spread through the Country, finding the Broads much to their liking.

The Marsh Harriers appeared this a near adult male

In the sky above the Marsh Harriers started to appear, soaring up on the thermals emitting their strange squeaky mewing call which doesn’t befit their looks.  In total there were five and a very pale Buzzard.  Mostly these birds were well out of range of my camera.  The Harriers started to display, what we call ‘sky dancing’, where the male rapidly climbs and dives, twisting and calling before spiraling into the reeds.  Later on the pair will continue to perform to each other, bringing nesting material.

There are pale morph Common Buzzards (Buteo buteo) and then there is this one! I don’t think I’ve seen one quite so white

It’s been a fabulous day out, so warm it could be May and great to be alive.  I had the reserve to myself and shall definitely return in the summer for the dragons.  I will leave you with one last image of a Harrier, a bit of a lucky capture.  Again many thanks for all of you who visit this site, I really appreciate it.

Come fly with me?


Chance Encounters

Friday was again glorious spring like weather.  With no gardening chores planned I decided we should take a drive out.  A visit to Sculthorpe Moor appealed, lots of photo opportunities there.  However on arrival the car park was crammed with maybe fifty plus vehicles.  When we have been here before there has never been more than ten other cars, and then it’s difficult to get a good seat in the observation hides.  Time for a plan B.

Headed out to the coast.  It’s the school half term holidays, brilliant weather, everywhere is busy.  Driving through Stiffkey with it’s very narrow, knapped flint wall lined roads I had a thought, Stiffkey Fen.  Pulled into the little lay-by with only one other car there.  A Marsh Harrier hunted the field opposite, so close, and I hadn’t yet got the camera out of the bag!  So off we went for our walk.  The path takes you alongside the tiny Stiffkey River which is probably no more than fifteen feet wide at most and overhung with brambles and branches.  Mrs H spotted movement on the far side, a Moorhen?  No a Water Rail!

Movement on the far bank

The Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus)  is a very shy and secretive bird.  They are fairly common in reedbeds and will give away their presence with an array of the most unusual calls, mostly grunts or groans but then a high pitched pig like squealing.  They will eat anything from small fish to seeds and berries and in severe winters have been recorded killing and eating small birds, even though they are not that big themselves.

The red eye and facial expression gives the Water Rail an angry look

I really wanted to get some nice images of this fellow.  It was difficult, the Rail was creeping in and out of the tangle of branches in a shady spot, so I upped the iso.  There were only two spots I could look from where branches on my bank did not obscure the view, the slightest movement and the Water Rail ran into cover.  After a few minutes it would reappear, constantly flicking it’s tail and moving further upstream towards a clearer sunlit spot.  I lowered the iso, bad move!  Even when it was in the sunny area the shutter speed was too low.  Dozens of what would have been cracking images were wasted because of movement blur, I should have tried to take more time, not easy on a constantly moving bird!

On the move again

There was another nice sighting.  When we were on the raised coastal path overlooking the fen a Barn Owl drifted by.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba)

Always strange to see an owl out hunting in bright sunshine.  Up here on the Norfolk coast it is something they tend to do, especially when the weather has been bad.  Well the weather has been great but it was lovely to watch, even more so when it was backlit by the sun, with a touch of mist over the reeds.

The ghost-like Barn Owl

Out and About

It has been just like spring this last week.  We have had daytime temperatures in double digits centigrade and lots of sunshine.  Saw my first butterfly on the 15th, a bright yellow male Brimstone zipped through the garden, no chance of any photos to mark the occasion but my time will come. Since then there has been two more.  Talking of the garden me and Mrs H have managed to get it back into order with a lot of hard work, have even cut the lawns!  Time to go out and about.

Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)

“I’m out of here!”  No matter how carefully I approach the water’s edge these wary diving ducks just melt off into the distance.  This drake is keeping a close eye on me.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)

Defeating the law of gravity.  A walk in the woodlands of Holkham Park and I saw this Woodpecker walking upside down along the branches, shame it wasn’t in a sunny spot.

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

“Call me Zorro!”  The Nuthatch is one of my favourite woodland birds.  The blue/grey upper parts, peachy colouring below and that black eye mask should make this little fellow stand out, they are excellent at concealment though.  The Nuthatch is the only British bird that can walk head first down trees.

Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus)

What is it with water birds giving me the evil eye?  This species was introduced to the ornamental lakes of country estates in East Anglia in the late 17th century.  Originally it struggled to survive the winters, now it’s population is booming.  Escapees are breeding so well they can be found all over the place, and they are very vocal!

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)

” A little privacy please!”  Not the best of shots but I had to include it as I love the look on the Goldcrest’s face.  I stumbled across these two taking a bath in a small puddle in the footpath at Holkham.  Just wish I could have got closer.  These are Europe’s smallest bird.

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)

How cute is that?  No problem getting close to this one.  As the Lemming used to call them ‘fluffy things on sticks’.  They also make the most beautiful nest, a little dome of moss, lichen and spiders webs lined with hundreds of downy feathers.  To fit inside the adult has to curl it’s tail around itself.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.