Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Sensational Strumpshaw Fen: Bearded Tit, Water Rail, Bittern, Little Owl....

Just occasionally the Fen pulls out the metaphorical stops and delivers bird photography opportunities of the highest quality. At the moment the 'film stars'  are the Bearded Tits, a pre-dispersal flock of which feeds along the Sandy Path, sometimes approaching within just a metre or two. While I was watching these this morning, a Bittern flew across the reed bed, adding itself to a daylist that already included Kingfisher, Water Rail, Snipe, Siskin and Jay.

I had work to do, so left earlier than usual: perhaps this was the reason I found one of the resident Little Owls perched right by the road!

Monday, 25 September 2017

Redstart and Pied Flycatcher at Horsey

Linda had booked some tree surgeons to come and manicure the garden, so I sloped off on a solo migrant hunt at Horsey.
Parking at the end of the Nelson's Head track, I walked through to the blue container where I found the only Wheatear of the morning, as well as a few Stonechats, Goldfinches and a Hobby.

The walk eastwards to the pine plantation was uneventful (apart from a peek at the seals from the top of the dunes) and I was thinking of returning to the car when I spotted Tim H huddled down by the fence. He was obviously on to something, so I got down and crawled over to join him. A terrific patch birder, Tim is never that desperate for company, so it was kind of him to whisper that there were a few birds flitting in and out of the conifers. After a wait of perhaps half an hour I got some decent images of  female-type Redstart and Pied Flycatcher: most welcome!

Sunday, 24 September 2017

White Storks: time for a little common sense!

If you haven't taken the trouble to visit the White Stork at Long Stratton, I honestly recommend that you do: it's a super bird, unringed and unpinioned and behaving just the way White Storks are supposed to behave. Of course, you could be led by the nose by some of the news services into dismissing this - and every other White Stork seen in Norfolk - as an escape. But on what evidence is this bird being rubbished? Is it ringed? No. Has it been wing-clipped (like many of the known Sussex wire hoppers)? No.

To arbitrarily call all White Storks in Norfolk 'escapes from Thrigby Hall' seems not just illogical, it is also misleading for the simple reason that there is no evidence! While it is true that Storks have escaped from Thrigby, it is also true that many of their birds are ringed and in a secure enclosure. As far as anyone knows, those that did go over the wire a few years back don't stray too far from the Hall. Let's face it: on the one occasion a pair attempted to nest it was on the roof of the Hall, about 300m from their enclosure!

There is a second potential source of escapee Storks: the Shorelands Wildlife Gardens near Diss. For a couple of years they have been looking after some injured Polish birds, apparently with a view to releasing them into the English countryside. Hmmmm... I can't see a licence being issued for that!

But! Even if it could be proven that many/most of the Storks that pop up around East Anglia are of captive origin, I'd argue there is no logic in failing to go and look at any that are free-flying and unringed: it's not as if White Storks don't occur here as genuine migrants: over the years I've seen a dozen or so whose origins were not questioned. As an aside: I'm old enough to remember when the long-staying Titchwell Stilt was claimed to have escaped from Pensthorpe, the Horsey Hickling Cranes were dismissed as escapes and when every Night Heron was said to be from Edinburgh or Great Witchingham Zoos!

Saturday, 23 September 2017

White Stork at Long Stratton: surely this one is continental!

Just after NCFC kicked off at Carrow Road this afternoon, Linda and I took the A140 south to Long Stratton. A brief circuit of the fields to the east of the village soon produced decent views of a White Stork feeding in a freshly-ploughed stubble field. This delightful bird was heavily in moult, but totally unringed and fed confidently about 150m from a public footpath.

It is beginning to get a little silly to label all White Storks that turn up in in East Anglia (especially during migration periods) as being escapes from Thrigby: where is the evidence?  Anyhow, a gorgeous bird to watch, especially when it was following the plough (as I've frequently seen them doing on the continent!)

Curiouser and curiouser!

The terrific guys who run the BINS website (daily updates of what's about in Suffolk) e-mailed to ask if I had any other images of the putative White-tailed Eagle from Wednesday. I was pretty sure I hadn't: I managed to snatch a couple of shots as the bird rose up from the canopy, one of which was hopelessly blurred. I thought I might as well check all the 'Buzzard' images I took from our walk from the White Hart out to the hide on the path to Walberswick and then back to the car.

In two of these appear a couple of raptors - or perhaps the same one twice - that seems broad-winged with a pigeon-like head. I can't help think this might be a distant Honey Buzzard...

Friday, 22 September 2017

Poplar Tree conservation at Hemblington Church

As you may recall, Linda and I are part of a team looking into the state of health of a group of 23 White / hybrid Poplars that define the border of Hemblington Church on two sides. Today we spent a satisfying - if somewhat physically challenging! - morning with our friends Sue and Peter cutting back a deep growth of laurel and bramble that was preventing a close inspection of the Poplars. All the material we cut (and there was a lot of it!) had to be carried from the southern to the northern end of the churchyard, where it could be deposited discretely behind a hedge! As an idea of what this entailed, my 'Fitbit' informs me that the to- and froing totalled 5.3 miles!

After clearing away the scrub we were able to assess all ten of 'our' trees: most were in pretty good condition, but many showed signs of heavy infestation by Hornet Clearwings. I don't think these directly pose a problem to the trees, but at least one cluster of holes was associated with a rotten area that will need further investigation.

I know it's just a few trees around a tiny, insignificant Church, but it felt really good to be doing something practical and worthwhile...

Thursday, 21 September 2017

The moral high ground!

It's really amusing to read the various blogs and tweets of some of the people who joined the crowds at Burnham Overy in an attempt to see the recent Pallas' Grasshopper Warbler. I should imagine most of those present behaved very well and kept to the public footpath - some may even have seen the bird from this vantage point. But quite a large number (judging by the discussions on BF) crossed a barbed wire fence and ditch in order to a) get closer b) take part in an organised flush.

My experience of rare locustellas is confined to a single Lancie and a single River Warbler. The River Warbler happily sat on top of a bush and reeled away for hours: the Lanceolated Warbler was a different kettle of fish! Initially found by Martin Reed, Bob Walker, Linda and I, the bird would disappear in the grass at our feet for minutes at a time, before reappearing within inches of where we'd last seen it. At one point it ran between Linda's trainers!

This experience was part of the reason Linda and I elected not to join the PGW twitch, even 'though we were just ten minutes away: we just weren't sanguine about seeing the bird. Even more at the front of our thinking was the inevitability of the twitch turning into an unpleasant experience. These fears were vindicated by the well-viewed Youtube video of a couple of Holkham Rangers being verbally abused by some twitchers and by the knowledge that actual damage and trespass had taken place on numerous occasions.

I've seen this before: I walked away from the Golden-winged Warbler without seeing the bird when I witnessed people breaking down garden fences, and from an Isabelline Shrike, where an elder statesman of Norfolk birding was shoved and abused by an over-zealous photographer.

What's fascinating is how many bloggers / tweeters / BF posters are now trying to re-attain the moral high ground by making retrospective apologies for their actions: you and I know that many of these will, at future twitches, be banging on about their conclusive two second flight view with not a trace of remorse!

Let's be honest: birding, twitching, bird photography are all hunting type activities: we try to sneak as close as we can with our bins / 'scopes / cameras to obtain our trophy, either in the form of a memory or a photograph. For some (especially, it has to be said, for those whose prime motivation is membership of an elite group of 500+ listers) there is a huge element of competition and desperation added to the mix. But saying sorry and then repeating your actions at the next big twitch is a trifle cynical, IMHO!

Great Spotted delight!

A pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers have recently become frequent visitors to the garden: they rarely come to the feeding stations, but often peck away at the large oak and sycamore trees I can see from my office. The female spent half an hour headbanging in the oak: you can see two large areas that she excavated!