Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Afternoon delight

On Saturday we paid another visit to North Norfolk and spent the morning at Titchwell once again. Although Bedfordshire had been blanketed in sombre, grey cloud with quite heavy rain, by the time we’d reached Norfolk the weather had improved greatly and by late morning the sun even made a welcome appearance.

Notable among the many birds seen were Twite, Water Pipit, Bearded Tit, and Spotted Redshank; with Eider Duck, Common Scoter and Velvet Scoter on the sea. There were, of course, numerous ducks, gulls, and waders on view from the Parrinder Hide, including a large flock of Golden Plovers on the Freshwater Marsh - and they really did seem to glow golden in the sunlight.

Unfortunately, a Northern Harrier which had been around earlier was a no-show while we were there, apparently waiting until ten minutes after we’d left and were on our way to Cley before it made another appearance [!].

But we had plenty to look forward to in the afternoon…

Our target bird for the day was awaiting us at Cley (or so we hoped), and sure enough we found him in a field opposite the NOA Walsey Hills reserve – a drake American Wigeon.

Even at a distance he was easy to spot, partly because of his immaculate plumage but also because he was a real bruiser compared to the European Wigeon around him – noticeably larger and bolder. And he certainly used it to his advantage - constantly bullying and harassing the other males.

Still harbouring faint hopes of seeing the Northern Harrier, after leaving Cley we decided to spend the latter part of the afternoon at Holkham, from where it had been reported earlier. On the way to the hide we came across a pair of Goldeneye on the lake by the track and stopped for a while to watch them. In his smart breeding plumage the male is undoubtedly the more attractive of the two…

But on this occasion I was more interested in the female who frequently adopted this posture when on the surface – not sure if it was related to courtship or aggression.

In the end we didn’t find the Northern Harrier but were more than compensated by some excellent birds from the Joe Jordan [Tower] hide at Holkham – a handsome Peregrine Falcon (eventually chased away by a Marsh Harrier), Common Buzzard, Pink-footed Geese in their hundreds (maybe thousands), White-fronted Geese, and Barn Owls hunting in the fading light.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Out with the old and in with the new

Having spent more time than usual at home over the Christmas period due to the icy conditions, by the time New Year’s Eve arrived I was determined to get out somewhere – anywhere! Plan A was soon formulated - a trip to Southill for some Tree Sparrows that had been reported there, and I set off just after 9 o’clock. The Tree Sparrows were good, and a new county species for me, but my little expedition only took an hour so and in no time at all I was driving back again, and trying to think of a Plan B. Eventually I narrowed it down to two options – a pile of ironing waiting for me at home, or a Ring-necked Parakeet waiting for me in Leighton Buzzard. Umm… which to choose…

[Let's face it - the ironing never really stood a chance]

This lone female Parakeet has lived in and around the same paddock in Leighton for several years. Maybe I’m just lucky but whenever I go there she soon flies in, screeching a greeting and making her way through the trees towards me. I always enjoy seeing her and as I stood looking at her I was reminded why – the sight of that beautiful emerald bird quickly dispelled the gloom of a grey and decidedly cheerless day.

A chilly, damp New Year’s Day was spent in North Norfolk where there were plenty of birds to be seen. A largish area of the Freshwater Marsh at Titchwell was frozen but that didn’t deter one Gadwall duck from gamely trying to make her way across it - slipping and sliding and falling over as she went. The open water held most birds of course, but even they didn’t look very happy - many were just hunkered down - trying, I guess, to sit out the inclement weather…

Drake Pintail
One bird that wasn’t the least bit perturbed by the weather was a Ross’s Goose that we came across on Arnold’s Marsh at Cley later in the afternoon. Not really surprising though, since this smaller cousin of the Snow Goose breeds on high arctic tundra in northern Canada. I’m not sure whether this individual was a true vagrant or an escaped captive bird, but it was good to see.

Probably the best bird of the Christmas period for me was seen at Stewartby Lake on Sunday afternoon [2 Jan] - a Red-throated Diver which had turned up there a day or two earlier. These birds usually spend the winter on the sea around the coasts of Britain, so although it wasn’t particularly close - staying mostly in the middle of the lake – the views I had of it were infinitely better than any previous ones of this species. [Remember, you can click on the photos once or twice if you want a closer look.]