Saturday, May 31, 2008


Took the camera out to Trimm's Green then SLRS. Trimm's green had Red-Legged Partridge, Yellow Wagtail, Stock Dove and a Turtle Dove purring away unseen. The SLRS had a Gadwall, a Lapwing, and flocks of Starlings and Stock Dove.

A few photos of nothing in particular.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Brecks 23 May

The Brecks, with their long list of speciality birds, are just over an hour up the road. Steve, Kevin and myself booked the day off, and as it was an inset day we took our boys (all year 6, age 10/11). Steve’s boy S#1 was on camera duties.

Hockwold RSPB reserve is a piece of continental countryside set in an intensive agricultural monoculture. It’s home to exotic birds like Golden Oriole, Common Crane, and recently Red-Footed Falcon as well as scarce UK birds like Bittern, Barn Owl and Nightingale. We didn’t see any of them. We did, however, get fantastic scope-filling views of Bearded Reedling. We had flocks, yes flocks, of Hobbies. Several Marsh Harriers quite close up, and good views of more common birds such as Kingfisher, Greenshank, Stonechat, Shoveller, Gadwall, Reed Warbler, and Common Tern. We heard a brief snatch of Golden Oriole song, and S#1 got a fantastic photo of a male Golden Oriole which had an uncanny resemblance to the picture on an information board.

We went on to Weeting Heath, home of the Stone Curlew. The staff were somewhat downbeat on our chances of seeing them, and as we sat in the hide we realised that even as they took our £2.50 they knew all we would see was baby Lapwings. We saw Jay, Roe Deer, and a pair of Spotted Flycatchers, but all the same…

A phone call later and we were stood at a nearby heath. Steve’s birding radar was turned up to 11 today and he soon had a pair of Stone Curlews. They gave the best views I’ve ever seen of this glorious species. The yellow legs, eyes and bill , and the buff under-tail all gave the bird an unexpected exotic appearance. The pair displayed, and as one jumped on top of the other we got the full Attenborough. We had Curlew bubbling away here too.

With an hour before dusk we popped into East Wretham Heath. The lads went off after the sheep, but a quick warning that the surrounding grass was packed with poisonous snakes just waiting for small boys and they were back on the path. We added Egyptian Goose, Teal, Tufted Duck, and Linnet to the list, then went to the excellent Angel Inn for some food.

Finally we headed off in search of Nightjars. First we went to Mayday Farm. We heard a distinctive high-pitched squeaking, and after we had told the boys to shut up we heard a possible Long-Eared Owl “squeaky gate” call too. Then on to another site where we had a dark shape fly past that was probably Woodcock. We listened, but could hear nothing but the howling wind. It was pitch black and midnight, and the boys were spooked and tired, so we headed for home.

The list doesn’t look great, but to be honest, I’m not sure a distant Crane peeking above the reeds would have added to the fun of the day. We saw some cracking birds close up, and were entertained throughout. I was kept awake on the drive home by the boys shrieking with laughter as they watched scenes of Star Wars re-enacted by them on some Norfolk Heaths.

Edit 25 May: Kevin sent through his down-scope photos of Stone Curlew:

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Raptor Weekend

I snatched a spare couple of hours on Saturday morning to go down to Fisher's Green in the Lea Valley to see the Red-Footed Falcon. It was as easy as birding can be; park, walk about 50 yards to the large group of people with telescopes, and look at the target bird cruising up and down in front of us. Conveniently a couple of Hobbies were there for comparison. I couldn't detect any difference in flight between the species, except perhaps the Hobbies had deeper wing-beats, but the RFF was a fairly clear first year female, with a brownish tinge on the upper wings, and the body being mainly buff with a hint of red. Otherwise it was a text-book bird, as can be seen from the "Mystery photo" in the previous post. Other birds were singing Cetti's Warbler, Pochard, Gadwall, lots of Common Terns.

Then Sunday was the bird-count in Hatfield Forest. We had lots of common woodland birds in our section, including a breeding pair of Kestrels and a Sparrowhawk, and then a Common Buzzard near the lake and a fantastic Turtle Dove in the Bush-End church yard. The highlight was a raptor picked up by Steve high over us. It was clearly a Kite, but we were denied a clear diagnostic view of the tail. Both Red and Black are possible as some of the latter have escaped from London Zoo, and I wouldn't like to choose between them on this view.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

More SLRS, Trimm's Green

Went to SLRS this morning with Kevin whilst D#2 was at cricket practice. Fairly disappointing list - just a Greylag, up to 6 Lapwing, young Coot (4), Canada Goose (3) and Mallard (lots), and a selection of local birds such as Kestrel (dropping on prey and carrying it off), Sparrowhawk, Heron, and a few standard birds. For the first time in a couple of months, no Gadwall.

Then in the evening back to Trimm's Green to take some photos. Of course everything was long distance, just a couple of apologies for photos here. I hope to stick a photo-essay on this area on Dipperworld at some point, but not today.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Did I mention I have a new scope?

I dropped D#1 off at 4:30 at her friend’s house, and went up to Trimm’s Green to have a look for any passage migrants. I spent about an hour enjoying the afternoon sun and scanning distant horizons - the M11, Hatfield Forest, and distant villages are all viewable from here - without luck, but had more joy in the immediate vicinty.

There were a pair of Red-Legged Partridges right next to the car and 2 more over the road in Lysander Park (so called because the RAF flew Lysanders out of here for SOE during WWII). 2 Corn Buntings singing from a couple of trees, 3 Yellow Wagtails on various wires, 10+Linnet, and a Stock Dove. Then from the southern perimeter road on the road to Allen’s Green, another pair of Red-Legged Partridges and at some enormous distance shimmering in the heat haze a pair of Grey Partridges - my first for this patch. I had to eliminate Turtle Dove first, believe it or not, but that orange face and the fact that they walked like partridges gave it away.

There is no way I’d have got these without the new Kowa 883. The precision on zooming to 60x is fantastic, and at 20x birds just spring to life. The new scope did cost me a species, however, as the uniform buff breast of a female Wheatear perched on top of a distant dung heap morphed into the finely streaked breast of a Skylark as the eyepiece wound up to 60x.

Wall Wood

had a quick look round Wall Wood (not West Wood as previously posted). The recent coppicing has produced an open green wood - very atmospheric. Not much on show today, however, apart from some standard woodland birds - Great Spotted Woodpecker, singing Lesser Whitethroat and cuckoo, and a few bedraggled heads of Early Purple Orchids.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Local Warblers at SLRS

back to local reality round SLRS. Still a disappointing lack of waders, but had Greylag Goose, 4 Canadas and 3 Gadwall. elsewhere there was a Sedge Warbler in the marshy bit by the river, 6 Whitethroats, a Lesser Whitethroat singing from the top of a hawthorn, and a Garden Warbler singing from the next hedgerow, so all the common warblers in now. Swifts over too.

Back in the garden, this monster.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Christening the new scope - Portland sea-watch 4th May

I managed to snatch just a couple of hours in an Easterly wind at the bill, 6:15-8:45 on Sunday morning. I stuck myself next to some regulars watching by the lighthouse, which proved to be an excellent decision as they called out everything going past and unlike me knew what they were looking at.

The sea was covered in birds. Everywhere you looked there were Manx Shearwaters; flocks sat on the sea, long lines arching up over the waves, certainly numbers in the many hundreds. The locals were unimpressed, recalling recent days of thousands of Manxies. There were plentiful Kittiwakes, Gannets, Fulmars, and Commic terns joining in this feeding frenzy, and Guillemots and Razorbills were sat out on the sea.

All this activity made picking up birds moving through tricky, but before long a dark phase Arctic Skua moved through close in, then Commic Terns moving through with loose flocks of 4 Black Terns, then 6, and a 1st summer Little Gull too. A dark phase Pomarine Skua with a nice set of spoons came through next, my first for many years. Then a bit of an interlude where we had 21 Common Scoter, and 3 Whimbrel. But not much else. One of the regulars had been texted that a male Hen Harrier had flown south onto the island, and after quarter of an hour someone checked the top fields - and there it was! We got distant but clear views as it slowly made its way out to sea.

Back onto the sea, and 3 Velvet Scoters came through close in. These didn’t get the attention they deserved as a shout of “Roseate Tern” went up. One was with a feeding flock of Commic Terns mid-way out. A lifer for me, it was clearly paler and slighter than the others, quite easy to pick out, and to my eyes seemed more fluttery. If I’d been on my own I might have struggled with confusion with Little Tern, but someone took me through the relevant features. And apart from a pale-phase Pomarine Skua that was more or less it.

This was the first real test of the Kowa 883. Everything was crystal clear and bright, and zooming in still gave a lot of details. It was a nice change not be struggling at distance. I can’t recommend it enough.

Commonly Spotted Orchids

We are fortunate in the UK in that the commonest orchids are also amongst the most beautiful. I spent a morning photographing some on the lo...