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

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

Autumn Robins

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.

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Shy and elusive. Image taken in October 2016 in very dark woodland

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?”.

Lone Dunlin

On my coastal outing mid-week it was noticeable that a great many people were still on holiday and that for some private schools it was half term.  I do not resent people from enjoying our wonderful countryside, sometimes I just like to be on my own to relax and soak up nature.  As I past Salthouse I noticed few cars along Beach Road so decided to stop and check for any migrant birds at Gramborough Hill.

The Norfolk coast from Weybourne in the east to Blakeney point is made up of a shingle ridge.  This used to be maintained to protect the marshes from flooding.  However in 2013 a storm surge flattened the ridge, extensive flooding occurred, and the shingle was left to shape itself naturally.

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Lone Dunlin in the shore pool

The car park was  lost and so too were many of the shore pools.  Only one remains, and as I approached I noticed two waders, a Redshank at the back feeding avidly, and on its own a small Dunlin (Calidris alpina).  Normally these little shore birds will be in flocks, probing shallow pools for worms and invertebrates.  I guess that today, like myself, this little fellow was just after a bit of peace and quiet.

 

Chiffchaffs

Not the most colourful bird you are likely to see, often referred to as lbj’s (little brown jobs).  This is the Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita).  The song of the Chiffie, where it repeats it’s name from the tree tops, is to me a herald of spring.  Now in autumn you will be attracted to it’s ‘hweet hweet’ call.

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Chiffchaff in hawthorn against a glorious autumn sky

These are hyperactive little birds only 11cm (4 inches) long.  They dart about the trees and bushes looking for insects often catching them in mid-air, always flicking their wings and dipping their tails.  This tail dipping is one way to id this bird from other very similar (and rarer) members of the Phyllosc clan.

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Searching for lunch

On Wednesday after a very misty start the day could have been straight out of mid-summer, glorious blue skies and temperatures into the 70’sf.  It was in the garden that I watched up to three Chiffchaffs.  These birds need to fatten up as they will soon be heading south, or will they?  More and more Chiffchaffs are now over-wintering in the UK.  Warmer temperatures have helped, but we still get very cold spells so the Chiffies will tag along with mixed flocks of Tits to look for insect food.

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Chiffchaff in the weeping willow. Will it head south or stay the winter?

 

Early Birds

A lot of you lovely bloggers I follow post some beautiful images of birdlife.  On occasion I have had a dabble.  I have been a bird watcher and twitcher for most of my life.  For photography I only have a 300mm zoom,  so to get half decent images I have to be pretty close, not easy, birds are very skittish!  Strange to think a 300mm lens plus crop sensor camera equals, in old money, 450 mm.  In the days of 35mm slrs that was a beast and I’m seriously thinking of getting a 150-600!

Anyway, for this weeks post I have picked out some of my bird images from the old files.   Some of these were shot in jpeg, hope they look ok.

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1.

Goldfinch  (Carduelis carduelis)  A beautiful member of the Finch family, often attracted to garden feeders.  This one was on our neighbour’s feeder.  To get this image I hid in a bush to be close enough, good job no one was watching!

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2.

Pink-footed Goose  (Anser brachyrhynchus)  Each winter over half the world’s population of this Goose arrive in Norfolk from Iceland and Greenland, that is about 100,000 birds!  They form big flocks and feed on sugar beet tops after the harvest.  If they arrive too soon they will feed on stubble, as here just outside my village.  These are very wary birds, I took this image using my car as a hide.

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3.

Great Spotted Woodpecker  (Dendrocopos major)  Normally I like my images to be in natural settings.  When you look out of the kitchen window and see this who could resist!

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4.

Juvenile Gulls  Left is a Common Gull (Larus canus).  Right Herring Gull (Larus argentatus).  These two were on the sea wall at Walcott, just a couple of miles from home.  They seem totally oblivious to the huge waves crashing up behind them!

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5.

Great Crested Grebe  (Podiceps cristatus)  A lovely fish eating, diving bird that can be found on rivers, lakes and the Broads.  I was on a foot bridge by Ormesby Broad when this fellow popped up a few feet in front of me.  I managed just this one shot before it fled in fright!  This is another of my images published in the local press.

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6.

Stonechat  (Saxicola torquata)  This bird gets it’s name from it’s alarm call which sounds like two stones being knocked together.  I have taken a lot of Stonechat images over the years, this one at springtime is a female.  I was very close to the nest site and she would come close to try and lure me away.

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7.

Dunnock  (Prunella modularis)  Caught in full song outside my home as I sat in my car.

Well I hope you like my little offerings from the past.  Have a good weekend.

 

Woodland Birds

It is always nice when you visit a new place for the first time and it turns out better than you expected.  This was the case last week when Tina and I went to Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve, just west of Fakenham in north Norfolk.  This is one of the Counties newest reserves and is run by the Hawk and Owl Trust.  From the neat visitor centre  there is over a kilometre of boardwalks winding through wet woodland know as carr.  The walk crosses the river Wensum and leads to several elevated hides, giving views of marsh and reedbeds.  By these hides are many well stocked bird feeders which were attracting large numbers of different species.

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Mealy Redpoll sporting a shiny new leg ring

There were many different types of finches.  The most exciting being a couple of Mealy Redpolls (Carduelis flammea).  These are winter visitors from the northern Continent in variable numbers.  Here they join mixed flocks including the normal Lesser Redpoll (C cabaret).  These Mealies are very distinctive being pale grey and white as opposed to the brown lessers.  With one feeding table being only a couple of metres from the hide window, and most birds being totally fearless, views were astounding.

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Male Siskin among the ripening buds

For photography purposes I wanted to image the birds in a more normal setting.  This meant waiting for them to settle in clear view, tricky with so many branches, and they were always on the move.  However I got the shots I wanted and could have stayed all afternoon but someone was getting restless and wanted to move on “How many more photographs do you need of the same birds?” The answer, as many as it takes to get that special one!

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The tiny Long Tailed Tit lives up to it’s name