Thursday, 30 December 2010

Out with the old........

Thursday 30th December.

As I thought. So far this christmas, this has been the only day I've had available for birding. And what better way to finish the year off than to have a day's birding in Norfolk. In particular for the (presumed?, putative?) juvenile male Northern Harrier that has taken up residence in the saltmarshes between Thornham and Brancaster Staithe.

So off we went in Mad Malc's mystery machine. Thankfully the fog, that had been driven through all the way, cleared around King's Lynn. As afternoons had seemed to be a good time of day to see the Northern Harrier, the first port of call in the morning was at Burnham Overy Staithe, as there had been reports of Rough-legged Buzzard in the area.

As good and popular as Cley and Titchwell are, and rightly so, I have to admit that my favourite spot on the North Norfolk coast is around Burnham Overy Staithe. Probably because there's more of a wilderness feel to the area. Certainly the thousands of Geese here, Pink-Feet and Brents, add to the atmosphere. We also saw a ringtail Hen Harrier, but perhaps it was a little misty for any Buzzard action.

So onto Titchwell next. Complete with it's recently opened, new Parrinder Hide!

Oh hang on, that's not right. But you've got to admit it looks pretty spaced-aged:

There was a really pleasing selection of stuff around, despite all areas of fresh water still all frozen over. Highlights included a female Bearded Tit, a Bittern:

Three Twite in amongst a flock of Skylarks:

A Snow Bunting on the beach, and offshore a large raft of Common Scoter and a few Goldeneye.

With Titchwell done and dusted, and with the Northern Harrier seen at Thornham Harbour earlier in the day, it was onto Thornham next, the village next door to Titchwell.

We only had to wait a few minutes when the Harrier appeared. The bird showed wonderfully close in the harbour at first, before hunting around the saltmarsh, catching and feeding on prey a couple of times, in addition to having a couple of goes at a Sparrowhawk.

Whether it really is a Northern Harrier, or just a funny looking Hen Harrier, I don't know but it's certainly unlike any Hen Harrier I've seen before. Definitely an education whatever the outcome. I can only compare with my own experiences of a ringtail Hen Harrier. What does a juvenile male Hen Harrier look like? I don't know, just like an adult female?

What I thought was noticeable was the bird being noticeably darker on the head and upperparts, orange underparts, a large white rump (or perhaps the darker brown makes this look larger?) and a rather odd dangling right leg. And with that dangling leg, who would've thought a raptor could look camp?

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

A Snowy Egret!

There, that got your attention didn't it? It makes a change from moaning about the cold anyway. Don't panic, I haven't lost me marbles or drank too much christmas sherry!

Just the highlight of a Little Egret (and not a Snowy Egret, as that would cause a major panic!) in the snow at Uttoxeter Quarry last Saturday, flying along the River Tean. In addition to 3 Snipe, 4 Wigeon, 1 Gadwall and 4 Common Gulls.

Prior to that, I found some more Waxwings last week, in Stafford this time. I found some berries a few weeks ago along my usual lunchtime walk along Weston Road. Last Thursday it eventually paid off when 3 Waxwings were around.

Anyway reader, that might be it for birding in 2010, I don't think there'll be too much birding time available for me in what remains of this year. But a New Years Day onslaught is planned to begin 2011, plus more of the same birding and nonsense throughout next year.

So if you happen to read this, although it's been said many times, many ways, merry christmas to you. And in true time-honoured tradition at christmas time, here's a bit of Morecambe and Wise.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

A Bit of Jiggery Pokery

Now I've just about recovered from Sunday's nightmarish day's birding. I've completely forgotten about what's going on "down under"! The third test from Perth gets underway in the early hours of Thursday. Keep it to yourself, but, if England win this test match then The Ashes are retained, without winning the series outright.

Right, no-one heard that, so I got away with it!

Not so long ago, there was a time when the England cricket team were perennially thrashed by the Aussies. As depicted in this wonderful animation, isn't it great what you can find on Youtube! And to the fantastic music of "The Duckworth Lewis Method". I'm sure it's autobiographical towards Mike Gatting!


Monday, 13 December 2010

It's all gone Pete Tong!

Saturday was a day off from birding, to catch up on christmas shopping (did you know christmas is on the way?) and make sure I went to the Albion's game against Southend United. Which was a 3-1 win, but importantly, got my ticket for the Middlesbrough game on the 8th January.

As for Sunday. If ever there was a day when I should've just stopped at home all day, in the warm, this was it. Let me explain............

Starting off at Uttoxeter Quarry. It's still all frozen solid, and as a result pretty birdless, desperate stuff really. And I did I say Cheadle was void of berries the other week? Well that was a load of buncumb, as over the last week a small flock of Waxwings has taken up residence around Lid Lane and Glebe Road.

Could I find them? No. But I wasn't too worried about that, but it would've been nice to see some Waxies in the town nearest to home. In truth, this was all killing time before heading to Blithfield. It sounded like an impressive gull roost the previous evening, with two Iceland Gulls in.

To begin with at Blithers, a Redshank below the dam, and in the small stretch of open water in Tad Bay, 20 Goosander and a drake Pintail. As you can see:

Then the reality of a Blithfield gull roost sets in, where are you going to look from? Unlike Chasewater or Copmere (I miss that roost!), Blithfield is too large to view from one spot.

I suppose the safest bet would be to view from the causeway or Watery Lane, but there were plenty of gulls piling in onto the ice at the bottom end of Blithe Bay from Beech Tree Point. And if any white-winger is going to fly into here, I'd see it well. That was the roll of the dice anyway, a gamble because there's no chance of seeing what's coming into the deep end from here.

It turned out that although plenty of gulls were coming onto the Blithe Bay ice, they were packing themselves in so tightly it was getting impossible to make a lot of them out. So as the gloom started I admitted defeat and went home.

Then came the sinking feeling on the way home, the proverbial kick in the teeth, when the pager mentioned an adult Iceland Gull at the deep end. Noooooooooooo! And to rub salt into the wound, the later mention of a brief redhead Smew from Beech Tree Point. Well I didn't see any sign of that.

Never mind eh, there's always next weekend (hopefully, adding the caveat of "weather permitting"). I suppose I've had a good run recently, with Whooper Swans, Waxwings, Great Grey Shrike in one attempt, and the like. If I'm going to have a bad'un then lets get it out of the way around the time of the shortest day!

Monday, 6 December 2010


Well I've never seen snow like it, for the end of November/beginning of December anyway. By the middle of last week there was seven and a half inches of snow at home!

It makes difficult going for birding, never mind the poor birds that stick this freezing weather out. Take last Friday when I had a walk in my lunch break in Stafford. There was a Snipe flying over a row of houses and dropped into someone's garden, and two Lapwings landed on a grass verge next to the office, the only patch of ground not covered by snow.

Nevertheless, took a walk round Uttoxeter Quarry on Saturday morning. Despite everywhere frozen over there was a Dunlin stood on ice with 15 Lapwings, 1 Woodcock, 2 Snipe, 5 flyover Goosander, 2 Redpoll, plenty of Fieldfares and Redwings.

The deep end of Blithfield was surprisingly free of ice. There were quite a lot of gulls around but couldn't notice anything out of the ordinary. There was also an increasing mist and the cold was getting a bit unbearable, so skipped the roost until dusk.

As for Sunday, thought I'd have a look for some gulls. Unfortunately Stubber's Green was quiet, not many gulls around at all. So after about an hour I thought I would try a new spot for me, that being Kingswood Pool on the outskirts of Cannock. Lots of gulls here on arrival, that's better!

Thoroughly impressed with Kingswood actually, and the close views you can get of the gulls on the water. Or ice in today's case. Managed to pick out an adult Yellow-legged Gull, but by the time I got the camera ready:

But it did settle:

By the way, it really did have yellow legs, but got chatting to a couple of passers by. I'll never make a pro-photographer!