Friday, 30 November 2012


It has been six weeks since my last blog - my apologies to those who have asked what I have been doing. The reason is that I have started a degree course in Countryside Management at Bishop Burton. I am really enjoying the course, but it does carry a large assignment workload and a sizeable reading list to go with it. On top of that I have a work placement with Richard at Tophill as well as my part-time work as a check-out dolly.

None of this means that I don't get out, and in the past few weeks I have seen plenty of Fieldfare, Redwings and continental Blackbirds. Other winter visitors have included 3 Waxwings on the approach road to Tophill, but so far none have come to the garden.

I will update my blog as often as I can, but given my college schedule that may be sporadic. In the mean time have a happy Christmas.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Norfolk Long-Weekend - Part 2

My second reserve visit during my long-weekend in Norfolk was to Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Cley Marshes. It was a bit overcast with some light rain threatened, but I wasn’t going to let that spoil a visit I had been really looking forward to. Fortunately the winds were lighter than during the visit to Titchwell, so my hopes were high of seeing more Beardies.

A view of the Visitor Centre
Following advice from one of the reserve’s volunteers I headed straight for Bishop’s Hide. The walk through the reedbed certainly provided some reassurance with “pings” going off all around me. Inside the hide it wasn’t very long before the birds made a first fleeting appearance. After a number of “pings” a group of 6 or so appeared at the top of the reeds about 50 feet from the hide, but they didn’t stay long as something large overflew them. However, over the next 30 minutes they returned a couple of more times, and seemed to head for a patch of Willow Herb that had gone to seed. Whether that was easier to pull than the other reed I’m not sure, but there was a clear attraction.
Beardie in Willow Herb
 In front of Bishop’s Hide is Pat’s Pool, but this was fairly quiet despite the approach of high tide. There was a single Dunlin and a couple of Black-Tailed Godwits, but otherwise it seemed to be more Wigeon and Teal city than anything else. Large numbers seemed to have flown in, all in various stages of eclipse.

Wigeon - in eclipse

Tufted Duck - also in eclipse
I tried my luck along East Bank. This was the volunteer’s second suggestion, and given the length of the reedbed alongside the path I was hopeful for more success. Interestingly it was along this path that I actually saw my first Cetti’s Warbler in the spring; even more interestingly a bird was calling from the reeds but was not so willing to be seen. Perhaps it may have been the same bird?

Very soon, though, the Beardies made a welcome appearance, and I was able to get some good views of both male and female birds. Again they were flighty and didn’t stay in one place for very long, and usually headed for the lower reeds if startled. However, these views we probably amongst the best I have ever had, and without the need for a scope!

Beardies - male and female

Resplendent male Beardie

Male and female Beardies
On our way back to our hotel, we stopped in at Morston Quay and Wells-next-the Sea, just to see what may be about. Both locations allowed some good shots of Little Egret and Redshank, but the surprise for me was two winter-dressed Guillemots diving off the main quay at Wells. Given the distance from the open sea, it seemed strange to see these two birds at close confines and not while on a boat!

Little Egret



Guillemot ready for winter
The following day we travelled home to East Yorkshire. Hopefully it won’t be long before I can go back to Norfolk.

Autumnal Norfolk - Part 1

This week my wife and I went down to the north Norfolk coast to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Being the wonderful woman she is, Lyndsay allowed me a couple of visits to reserves as a chance to get some photos and experience the last throes of this year’s summer return migration. I also wanted the chance to photograph Bearded Tits (or Reedlings as they are known locally).

The first visit was to Titchwell RSPB – the so-called flagship of the Society. It was my first visit, and my first impressions were all good despite the numbers of visitors. The day had been chosen specifically because high tide was due late in the morning. As at Spurn the tide supposedly pushes the waders up the beach, at which point they fly to the reserve’s freshwater and tidal marshes to roost until the feeding grounds resurface again. My expectations were of the scenes shot by “Countryfile” with thousands of Knot flying overhead. Given my past record you’ll not be surprised to hear that that didn’t happen. However, the day was by no means a waste for that.

The walk towards the beach took me past extensive reedbeds, and it wasn’t long before they were alive with the “pings” of my target bird. The wind wasn’t quite perfect, but very soon Bearded Tits could be seen in the reed-tops plucking at seed heads. These little birds are very flighty, and are a nightmare to photography as they cling to the reed tops, swaying back and forth in the breeze. But their fantastic colours were bright in the morning light.
Bearded Tit


 An additional surprise was the occasional, but noisy call of a Cetti's Warbler. It seemed to be very close, but after a full 45 minutes sat waiting for an appearance, I had to give up to the hunger pangs and have something to eat in the cafe.
After lunch I walked to the Freshwater Lagoon to find it stuffed full of allsorts – distant Spoonbill (from the nesting colony up the road at Holkham), Knot, Golden Plover, Ruff, Curlew, Black-Tailed and Bar-Tailed Godwits, Redshank and Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Curlew, Little Egret, Lapwing, and lots of duck.

Black-Tailed Godwit




Little Egret

I think that the thing that stuck with me was just how approachable some of the birds were. The walk alongside the tidal lagoon allowed me to get some close shots of Godwits, Redshank, Curlew, Greenshank, and Little Egret. Despite the numbers of people walking past these birds seemed not to mind at all – something that I find a little disturbing. Could Titchwell be turning into something of a zoo?

I tried the new walks. These are clearly under development, so it was not surprising that there wasn’t much about. However, I did come across one very tired Swallow. It was all it could do to fly a circuit of one of the small lagoons, before landing on one of the seats. It was so tired – presumably from flying across the Wash – that I was able to get within 3 or 4 feet of it. I left it sitting on the gravel, warming itself in the afternoon sun.

A very tired Swallow!!

Little Grebe
My impressions of Titchwell? I had a good visit. Titchwell is a good reserve with some excellent photo opportunties, hides and facilities - but for me, a bit too busy.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Bittern and Twisted…… Not Me!!

Seven and a half hours in North Marsh hide waiting for a Bittern, and nothing! Some would say that was dedication, others that I am going mad! And all because of those fantastic photos on Richard Hampshire’sTophill Blog. Bittern’s have always been a bogie bird for me, with the best shot I have taken at Potteric Carr a couple of years ago.
Record shot of Bittern from Potteric Carr
The morning session went slowly with little to report other than gangs of other birdwatchers dropping in for short periods of time. Some quite considerate, others not so.
After a quick bite to eat I was joined by that other celebrated “Jonah”, Tony Simpson. We sat quietly but nothing happened until we were joined by John Leasson late in the afternoon. Still no Bittern, but within minutes we had our first of two Kingfisher visits (male and female), followed by a sighting of a Peregrine, a Hobby scaring the be-Jesus out of some Black-Headed Gulls, a juvenile Marsh Harrier, and finally a swimming Grass Snake – something I haven’t before seen this late in the year. Next time I go out I might have to see what John is doing….

Our male visitor

Our female visitor

On the hunt...

Just tasting the air....

Trying the nearside bank...
Today was just one of those days I guess. Sometimes you strike lucky, other times you have to put up with the frustration. At least I was out in the countryside and among enjoyable company. Perhaps next time my luck will be better and I will get to see that damned elusive Bittern!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Bitten but no Bittern

Blimey it was chilly today! I spent the morning at Tophill in North Marsh hide hoping to see yesterday’s reported Bittern. The weather was rainy, and the wind was in the north-east, right into the hide.
The morning began with some distant views of a Barn Owl that appeared to be chasing Woodpigeons out of the trees. Given the rain and the potential of damage to its plumage, this sight was something of a surprise – but a welcome one nonetheless.

A Mute Swan came into view, and mounted the bank in front of the hide. The next twenty minutes was spent in frantic preening and washing. The behaviour it exhibited seemed to suggest that it had some uncontrollable itch that it needed to get rid of, but couldn’t. Having done some research on line this afternoon, it appears that swans and other waterfowl can suffer from a parasitic worm that can cause cercarial dermatitis. In humans this same parasite causes “swimmers itch”. It is possible that this swan was infected. After a while the swan disappeared to the other end of the Marsh out of sight.

The Bittern didn’t actually show this morning, which was a shame given that it had been seen fishing yesterday. However, by way of compensation I was treated to some lovely views of one of the Kingfishers and a Long-Tailed Tit.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Lower Derwent Visit

Brilliant weather and the kids are back at school!!
Yesterday I took myself off to Wheldrake Ings – always a good bet for a few migrating waders at this time of year. And it might well have been, but I was not able to get close enough to spot anything. There were good, but distant views from the now restored Tower hide, but unfortunately YWT have yet to complete repairs to the boardwalks for the other two - I wish I had known beforehand. However, From Tower hide I was able to watch a couple of Marsh Harrier search the flooded areas for a meal – one female and the other a juvenile. Neither were successful in anything other than spooking all the duck and gulls that had been peacefully roosting.

Marsh Harrier
The dragonflies were relishing the warm sunshine, with a number of Brown and Southern Hawkers, and Ruddy Darters patrolling the hedge and willow borders. Some had paired up and were ready to lay eggs for next year’s generation, and many were looking the worse for wear, with tears to those delicate wing panels. I came across a single Banded Demoiselle – a species I normally associate with earlier months of the summer. What a beauty!

Brown Hawker

Southern Hawker
Mating Southern Hawkers

Mating Ruddy Darters
Baned Demoiselle
On the way back to the car I did come across an obliging Lesser Whitethroat. It looked like a juvenile, and was greedily picking off insects on the brambles near the bailey bridge. A very nice bird.

Lesser Whitethroat

Saturday, 1 September 2012

A Disappointing Start, but an Enjoyable Ending

The weather was forecast to be fine and sunny yesterday, so I decided to take myself off to the north of the region to a site I had not visited before – Filey Dams. The reserve has a reputation as a bit of a hotspot during the return migration period, and as we had had fairly strong north to north-easterlies for the past day or so, I was hoping for something special.
How disappointed was I? When I arrived it was quite cool and the reserve was occupied only by the usual residents – Greylags, Mallard, Mute Swans, a variety of gulls etc. No waders, and only one visiting passerine in the tree next to the hide – a female Blackcap. There were frequent drop-ins from Swallows and some Sand Martins, but otherwise diddly-squat. Opportunities for photos were limited to some moorhen and odd birds at the feeding table. There was a very brief glimpse of a fox, but it had clearly already eaten as it laid down behind some tall grass for a sleep, and was not seen again.

The word was that Filey Brigg was just as quiet, so I decided to relocate to Bempton Cliffs for the afternoon. Unfortunately things weren’t much different there. Yes the cliffs were alive with Gannets, Fulmar, and Herring Gulls, but the rest of the reserve was very quiet. I did spot a second fox near the old RAF watch station, but otherwise I only saw a few Tree Sparrows and Chaffinch. So I settled down to watch the Gannets and Fulmars.

Fulmar - up close

Fulmar - effortless
The interesting thing about the Gannet colony was that even at this late stage of the season things seemed a bit mixed up. There were young birds flying and practicing their landings; young on the cliffs, some still covered in down; adult birds still courting and mating; and even one bird bringing nesting material back to a mate. Weird!

Gannet-sex - a precarious exercise

"Honey, I'm home..."

One of the last fluffy chicks

Must be a late starter

Juvenile practicing with new skills

Although the day had had a disappointing start, I'm glad I went over to Bempton. Watching and photgraphing the Gannets and Fulmars was something I hadn't done for a while, but found it very enjoyable and a good test for the new camera.