Friday, April 30, 2021

Going Dotty at RSPB Frampton Marsh

 'Normality' is slowly returning, and part of that is trips to star spots without having to pretend its on my way to work, or I have any reason other than wanting to go and see some birds. So, Frampton Marsh, with Mike travelling separately and later.

The formula for a good day is to get the target birds, in this instance Dotterel, on the list as soon as possible, then just relax and enjoy the wildlife.  So how did that go?

Helpful locals directed me to the SW corner where said star bird was loafing around in the company of a few Golden Plover on the wet farmland that constitutes the SW portion of the reserve. As I approached everything went up, and a small plover amongst the Goldies was clearly it, so, Dotterel on the year list. 

Mike had arrived and gone to the sea wall. I texted the Dotterel had flown in his general direction, and when I finally got one there he directed me to some Golden Plover on the ground with an accompanying wader. They were asleep and some way off, hence only limited views were available. I must admit, I knew the Dotterel was not a full adult female, but I hadn't expected it to look so plain, the eyestripe so dull, so like a Grey Plover. Mike was circumspect about it but I was happy to tick it.

We went up the  sea wall taking in the mass of birdlife on both sides. Ruff were everywhere with the majority males in their summer finery. Honestly worth going just for these birds, but in there too were masses of Blackwits and Avocets, with Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers and a few Dunlin mainly in winter, and then two Spotted Redshanks. One was dusky, but the other jet black apart from the spangling on the back. If you showed someone all the waders apart from Spotted red and asked them to guess what the last one looked like, no-one would ever guess all Black. Just an outstanding bird. 

We carried on round, battered briefly wind rain and hail, and had the first of 5 Whimbrel on the sea-ward side. We looked hard for the Black-Necked Grebes but couldn't locate them, and later learned they may have departed as regular scrub removal may have made the habitat unsuitable this year. 

Back to the centre, a pair of unseasonal Goldeneye flying past, and then back down the main path. A warden summoned us over and showed as a Blue-Headed Wagtail giving outstanding views. The warden thought it may have some Channel Wagtail in it as it was paler than a previous bird, but to me was a classic Blue-headed; blue-grey head, face and nape, thin white super, slight white in the sub-ocular patch, white chin. My first since, ummm, well some time last century.

The fun didn't stop there. We were told a Jack Snipe had been seen yesterday right in the corner of a lagoon close to the road - and there it was, bob-bob-bobbing. Then back on the sea wall, a fellow birder shouted 'look - Whinchats!' as two Wheatears landed in front of us. I would find it a laughable mistake if I hadn't myself done the same on a couple of previous occasions. These birds were males, but sandy on the back and very bright vivid peachy/orange on the breast, making confusion on a quick view easy. Maybe Greenland birds?

We had lunch well satisfied with the haul, and decided after lunch to walk the southern wall as Mike was keen to get a better view of the Dotterel still having doubts over the first non-definitive view. We duly had it pointed out to us, and there it was, with a patchy pink breast, large well marked scapulars, and a stonking eye-stripe. Ah. Clearly the bird I had seen earlier was not this! I think best described as a learning opportunity. We carried on round adding Hare and Roe Deer to the list, a few more Whimbrel, then from the sea wall Mike picked out a Pale-Bellied Brent Goose amongst several hundred Dark Bellied Brents, and that was it apart from repeat sightings of a pair of adult Mediterranean Gulls, which might be the same ones, or not.

A fantastic day. Not just the species, but the numbers. 40+ Ruff, similar numbers of Yellow Wagtail, 3 species of hirundines plus Swift, Sedge Warblers everywhere, The constant noise of breeding colonies.

It takes a few goes to get comfortable with a place. To know the spots to go, the paths, where to stop and watch, how long to allow for, how to pace the visit. This was my third trip to Frampton, and I finally feel I'm getting to grips with the scale of the place. And what a place, simply crammed with birds.

Given the nature of this year, plenty of year ticks. Not just Dotterel, but Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Spotshank, Whimbrel, Ruff, Brent Goose. And Grey Plover, I'm having that too.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Year-listing in the Brecks

 Like many of you, three months of house arrest has left my year list in need of some TLC. Where better to start than The Brecks. I'd seen a few tweets from people calmly announcing their fantastic day totals, so ...

First stop Santon Downham. Out of the car along the track toward the LSW site, and as hoped there was Woodlark and Tree Pipit, and a male Stonechat atop a tree. Under the railway line and then some magic in a small clump of willows. These willows are over a water-filled ditch, and finches come down to drink using the willows as perches and cover. Lesser Redpolls were here in beautiful pink. When birders came by I counted 18 fly out. Lots of Siskins around and a familiar 'chip' as 2 Crossbill flew by. 

I passed a woman with a camera who didn't seem to have much clue about the LSWs and got to the site. Not seen since 7am. I gave it a while, got Nuthatch and Treecreeper for the day list, then headed back behind another watcher who had given up too. He fiddled with his phone and the call of LSW rang out. 'Oooh LSW!' I said in mock surprise at his bird-call app. He turned round and said oh you heard it too! He hadn't been fiddling with his phone at all. It was indeed the actual bird! Confirmation came at the lady with the camera who had seen two birds briefly. Clearly more clued up than I. 

On to Lynford Arboretum. I had been told Firecrest was breeding in the car park. No sound or sign of it so I decided on the out-fast strategy, whereby I go quickly to the extent of my walk and come slowly back. No sign of the Brambling at the feeders, or Hawfinch or anything much, but on the way back by the bridge a familiar faint high-pitched 'zziiziiziizii'. I gave it a few minutes and the bird revealed itself - a male Firecrest. Back to the gate for the finches and yet again 'zziizziizziizzii', and yet again male Firecrest low down, giving a shiver as it sang, fantastic. So, in little over a hundred yards three Firecrests (including the ones in the car park seen by others). It may be that the prime Firecrest trees are all down this drive, or it may be that this species is now widespread in this area.

Quite pleased with actually seeing these in tall pines; I think with Firecrest they don't ever stop moving, so if you hear one just keep looking until you see a movement and then close down on the area until it appears. And both were lower down than I expected.

I mentioned it to an old chap, and immediately he had the expression of 'thanks but the days of my hearing Firecrests have long gone'. So I carried on whilst having this sick feeling I was telling him what he was no longer able to see. How long before that is me, watching silent flocks of tits and crests?

Anyway, back via Lakenheath I thought as there were Arctic Terns on the wastelands yesterday. The sat nav took me past Weeting and a couple scoping the field opposite, so a quick pull over and Stone Curlew is now on the year list. Then Lakenheath RSPB and up to the washlands.

No terns, but plenty of Avocet and Black-Tailed Godwit. A kingfisher appeared in the near corner perched on a reed stem, and behind it a pair of Garganey swam. Then distantly amongst some feeding Redshank, a small wader. Distance and heat-haze made ID difficult, but narrowing it down, smaller than Redshank, white underneath, brownish above, longish needle bill, some bobbing but not a lot, quite slight, walking around in vegetation and muddy fringes, I found myself thinking Wood Sandpiper, but it wasn't possible to get closer as on walking round to get closer the edge it was on became hidden by vegetation. So it will have to go down as wader sp. I mentioned it to a couple of RSPB people, both of whom said they would tell someone else. Maybe someone will be able to get up there for a better view...

And that was it. Fantastic. Just nice to be back in a place with loads of birds, to be surrounded by the constant noise of flocks of finches. And to get some decent ticks too. 

Casual Year Listing.

It's been a while. And I guess that does reflect a certain loss of enthusiasm, a change of tack.  Not that I haven't been out. A cou...