Spring is coming. Leaves are starting to break from their buds and in the country lanes blackthorn blossom is emerging. The few daffodils that survive our heavy soil are in bloom along with the gorgeous hellebores. Bright yellow forsythia and the small blue and pink pulmonaria join the primroses and winter heathers. When the sun shines and temperatures rise a little the first honey bees and bumblebees have been making use of this new source of nectar and energy.
Blue Tits and Great Tits are inspecting the nest boxes for suitable homes in the not too distant future while the Blackbirds and Song Thrushes are starting to find their voices. Yet things seem a bit restless. It’s still a little early and far from warm, though we have not had a proper winter it may not have finished with us just yet.
Mid-week and with the prospect of a little sun I took a look at a section of derelict canal a couple of miles from home. I was delighted to see a pair of Grey Wagtails in the old lock. These gorgeous birds are more at home on fast flowing streams but with the lock gates long removed forming a waterfall they looked well suited to this habitat. The strong wind cut right through you and half an hour was long enough for my fingers to go numb but these birds were obviously getting the spring urge.
Back home and from the comfort of indoors I managed to get this pleasing shot of a male Chaffinch. Lots of birds visit our neighbours feeders and they are in easy view of the bedroom window.
This period in 2018 we had the ‘Beast from the East’ with heavy snow blocking the roads. In 2019 we enjoyed two weeks of sun and temperatures in the 70’sF and five species of butterfly in the garden. This year its been storms, gales and periods of heavy rain and none too warm, the joys of living in England! And this photographer is getting restless too.
Ducks with teeth? Well not quite. There is however a group of quackers that collectively go by the name Sawbills. This is due to the edges of the beak being serrated which comes in handy when your diet consists mostly of slippery fish and you have no hands to hold them! There are six species worldwide. Of these four are seen in the UK. The Hooded Merganser is a very rare vagrant from North America, the gorgeous Smew a winter visitor in small numbers from Scandinavia, the Red-breasted Merganser and the Goosander both breeders in the north and west.
On new years day, after a bit of a late night, we went for a walk to get some fresh air. Not too far from our hotel in the Welsh town of Llandrindod Wells was a park with a beautiful man-made lake. Apart from the usual Mallards, Canada Geese and Mute Swans all trying to scrounge a crust or three I noticed a small group of four ducks out in the middle that were not familiar.
They turned out to be Goosanders (Mergus merganser). In my part of the country they are a scarce winter visitor, I am more used to seeing the Red-breasted Merganser. Here in Wales they breed in holes in trees next to fast flowing rivers but in winter will visit still waters where the feeding is a touch easier. The drakes are very dapper with their mostly white plumage and dark heads with a deep green sheen. The ducks are grey with a ginger hair-do. They were quite nervous. Although attracted to the commotion when children fed bread to the usual suspects when I pointed a lens in their direction they sidled back out to the centre. In all there were about eight.
This area of Mid-Wales is very well known to bird watchers. It was in the remote valleys of Powys and Ceredigion like the Elan where, in the 50’s, the last handful of Red Kites survived in the UK. In Medieval times Kites were common across the land and protected by law as their scavenging helped clear up man’s waste. This changed in the 16th century when they were declared vermin and hunted to near extinction. Now thanks to a re-introduction scheme they are once again flourishing and can be seen almost anywhere. I saw many on my break but the light was poor and photography difficult. So here’s a shot from Norfolk in 2017 when I had a close encounter!
Spare time has been at a premium just recently and the weather mostly poor. As a result I have not been out with the camera since my trip to Germany. Exchanging comments with Brian over at https://wildlifeintrigued.com/?wref=bif gave me an idea for this post. So B for you Snow Buntings!
Each winter, here in Norfolk, we are lucky to have numbers of these delightful Buntings visit the coast. The flocks can be over a hundred strong and in flight although they twist and turn as one each individual rises and falls. With the white in the plumage they resemble snowflakes. As they fly they have a lovely ringing call.
In the UK the Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis), as a breeding bird, is restricted to the high mountains of Scotland. I remember seeing them outside the cafe on Cairngorm and Mrs H calling them sparrows! The birds we get in the winter most likely are migrants from Scandinavia. Occasionally a male will still retain it’s gorgeous black & white feathering. They usually return to the same areas of coastline. One such place is the shingle ridge at Salthouse. Here local birders supplement their diet with seeds, this makes them fairly approachable and some nice images can be had with patience.
When I was out in Germany I noticed that the crows did not look quite the same as those I am used to back in the UK. I didn’t get good sightings to start with but when I did I realised these were Hooded Crows (Corvus cornix)
In the UK this species is mostly restricted to northern Scotland and Ireland. The odd bird will wander south in the winter. The crow I am more used to is the Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) which is entirely black. It is not many years ago that these two were, in this Country, treated as variants of the same species. The crow family is not everyone’s favourite and perhaps with some justification. Most often they are seen living up to their carrion name, scavenging on road kill. They are very adept at this and will fly up at the last second so as not to become the main course! They do however prey on the nests of other birds. Populations of corvids has grown in recent years and with very few natural predators this is causing a slight imbalance.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
There was another nice sighting. When we were on the raised coastal path overlooking the fen a Barn Owl drifted by.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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!
” 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.
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.
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.
I would think that almost everyone in Europe is familiar with the Robin (Erithacus rubecula). It’s beautiful song brightening up even the dullest winter’s day. In the garden they can become fearless, looking for worms while you dig the plot, indeed with patience they can sometimes be persuaded to take food from your fingers.
However there is another side to the Robin. In autumn many thousands will join other species and migrate across the North Sea to the UK from the Continent. If conditions are right (wrong for the Robin) they will make landfall along the coast. Patches of woodland can contain many birds, but they are shy and elusive. Often all you hear is the high pitched tic tic tic alarm call, or catch a glimpse of something flitting about deep in cover. When you are looking for rare migrants the Robin will often fool you, leading you on a merry dance until ID is clinched. Eventually these birds will spread out to the rest of the Country.
So when you are in the garden this winter and ‘your’ Robin is serenading you from the trees ask yourself “I wonder what language he is singing in?”.
I have been a huge fan of Drag Racing ever since my first visit to Santa Pod when I was 7-years-old. I love all Motor Sport but Drag Racing is still the one that gets me jumping around enthusiastically. Despite America having the larger NHRA Championships, which I also continuously follow, I have always preferred European and British Drag Racing. This is mainly because I have grown up with it - the first official FIA European Championships were held in 1996 and I haven't missed a big event at Santa Pod since 1997. When an event is on I get to the track, plonk myself down somewhere along the spectator banking and would very happily sit without moving for the entire weekend watching the racing.