Saturday, January 21, 2012

Delayed reaction

Barnes last weekend was so good it's taken me a week to get round to writing about it.  A Shelduck, a Pintail, two Stonechats, two Pergerines.  Phwoar.

Most of the rest of my time there was spent chasing redpolls around 'wildside' — far less exciting than it sounds and, predictably, none that I saw were the reported (I use that word with scorn) Mealy Redpolls.

Any other exciting news from the week past?  Er, no.  I did spend several days without a bathroom light.  First because the fuse went and, this being rented accommodation, it required someone from the property management to come and flick the fuse switch(!) and then because a day later the bulb went.  It's now been replaced though I think I preferred showering in the dark.

But by far the highlight of the week.  This steak and kidney filled deliciousness.

Vegetarians look away now.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Were they watching the Arctic Redpoll or had somebody died? There was a large crowd gathered in the picnic area. On the north Norfolk coast, staying still for more than 30 seconds attracts a crowd. Passers-by are drawn in like positively-charged flies to negatively-charged shit. You often hear them muttering amongst themselves asking "can you see it yet?"; often, they don't even know what it might be. Indeed, there doesn't even need to be an it; you could simply be staring blankly into middle distance. Or, indeed, lying lifeless on the floor. Within 15 minutes you'll have attracted a crowd of epic twitch proportions.

I left London at some time early on Saturday morning to head up to Suffolk, where I met up with Steve Rutt and his dad. From there we headed north to the Norfolk coast; first stop Titchwell. There we caught up long-time 'virtual friend', Slovenian/Italian birder Domen Stanič, who had spent the week birding in Norfolk; we also bumped into Connor Rand and Simeon Grundy who, despite many years of visiting Norfolk, I had managed to never bump into before. We joined the crowd and waited for the redpolls to appear. The flock, although fairly small, contained three different flavours of redpoll: cabaret, flammea and exilipes. Commonest seemed to be, not unexpectedly, cabaret; there were plenty of tiny buffy-brown individuals. There were 'at least several' flammea; a couple of classic individuals and a couple of individuals that, although brown, were still rather white (vs. buff) and big, noticeably bigger than neighbouring cabaret. The exilipes was also a chunky monkey, to the point that nearby cabaret looked tiny; at one point the exilipes, a 'classic' flammea and a cabaret were in the same scope view. The exilipes was considerably more interesting in the flesh than on photographs. I won't go into too much detail (that's a way of saying I spent no where near as much time with it as I would have liked; eight hours or so would have been good if not a little impractical) but, apart from the size of the bird, two things struck me that hadn't been overly-apparent in photos of the bird: the cheeks showed a chamois wash, and the flank markings—despite being rather heavy—were broken and gave an almost spotted appearance. Spotted in a streaky sort of way. The black streak on the undertail coverts was alarmingly obvious, though I suspect this was amplified by being isolated in a sea of otherwise pure white feathers.

We strolled along the main footpath with a female Scaup on the grazing marsh pool, a flyover Goosander, Brent Geese, a Water Pipit calling by Parrinder Hide… talking of Parrinder Hide, I'll interrupt myself here to moan about the windows. I remember being in Fen Hide many years ago and there being a selection of windows that you could vote for. There was one setup that I presumed was there for novelty value: it was a hideous contraption of pulleys and wind-up handles. It's not surprisingly it got the most votes, really; I'm sure people voted for which one they would have the most fun opening and closing rather than the one that would be most practical. Sure, it is great fun but I tend to go into hides to watch birds; if I wanted to mess about with ropes and pulleys I'll go and work on a sailboat. It does, however, stop me hanging out of the window to see birds like, for example, this Water Pipit. So that's +1 to RSPB hide design, I guess.  But anyway, I digress. In the 'saltwater' Parrinder Hide (yes, the are now two hides for if you want it salty or fresh) a couple were close to physical violence as they argued over the identification of a bird—Redshank or… Water Rail? From the freshwater side there was the usual stuff and things; Pintail, Golden Plover, Ruff etc. Conspicuous by its absence, I looked for and failed to find a single Coot. A radio-call to one of the volunteers alerted everyone in the hide to the presence of an Iceland Gull on the beach. We took advantage of the mass exodus and enjoyed the empty hide.

A short while later we wandered down to the beach to find that the Iceland Gull had done one (it had been distant, anyway). There was the usual selection of waders and a handful of Goldeneye offshore. We left Domen & co. at Titchwell and head on to Holkham.

If Titchwell was dude central, Holkham was upper-country-class central. The place was full of black Labs, tweed jackets and, bizarrely, totty in ski gear. Less the skis, obviously. Look out for Wills and Kate wearing their purple jackets and yellow salopettes on their next visit to Sandringham.

The Horned Larks were fairly easily located thanks to a gentleman who was watching something on the far side of a shingle ridge in the middle of the gap and a dog walker who then flushed said something (four Horned Larks), causing then to fly to far end of the saltmarsh. Thankfully for us, they then stayed put there and allowed us to get some great views.  Also a large flock of Snow Buntings twinkling about over the dunes and some littoralis Rock Pipits grubbing about on the saltmarsh.

Next up was Cley. Cley combines the two previous elements—dude meets country. Take, for example, the couple clutching their 10x50 field glasses complete with brown leather case. We attempted to enter the hide from where the Calidris sandpiper had been showing only to be met by a wall of bodies and tripods. We tried scoping the marsh from the path but failed miserably to pick out any small American waders, though we did finally add Coot to the day list.

I wandered off to one of the other hides to see what was on show, arriving just in time to see a small flock of Dunlin, complete with peep, drop onto the island in front of the hide. It was on show for about 10 seconds before the entire flock of small waders was engulfed by about 150 Golden Plover landing on the same island. Steve and his dad entered the hide; I told them there the target bird was 'out there somewhere'; a gentleman overhead me, rushed out of the hide and reentered the hide 3 minutes later with the entire population of the other hide in tow. Sadly for them, all of the waders had just flown up and back onto the marsh in front of the hide they're just come from. And, sadly for us, our empty hide was now full of bodies… though at least we had front row seats this time. After a while the Dunlin flock (with bonus American tag-along) flew back in, this time landing on a far island.

You'll notice thus far I've been cunning enough to avoid using the W word. The first view of the bird was too brief to get into feather detail; the second too distant. I'm not even going to bother going into detail about what I did see because I suspect it means nothing in the grand scheme of things. Except to say, it had cute little dark ear coverts. Now I have to wrestle with the ethics of seeing a bird that's been well documented elsewhere but that gave views that were good enough to know it was 'the bird' but not good enough to have come to an identification conclusion oneself.

You'll be doing well if you can see the rufous scapulars.

We finished Saturday with dinner in Cley before heading back south. Huge thanks for Steve's dad for doing all of the driving; it's a long time since I've had a day out birding where I've been able to sit and relax in the back of the car.

Sunday morning, Steve and I went on a local tour of Suffolk. We started by dipping a Great Grey Shrike before heading into Ispwich for some cheap petrol and a flock of 50 or so Waxwings.

Then, finally, onto a lay-by below the Orwell Bridge where we had a nice selection of waders (including two colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwits, both of which steadfastly refused to show both legs) and a Great Northern Diver distantly on the river.

P.S. These 'double line spaces' that blogger likes to put into my posts are really starting to hack me off.  Death to <divs> and all of that...

Sunday, January 01, 2012


2011 ended with me sat in my room reading Dutch Birding; 2012 started with a look at what was in the garden—it was full of Goldfinches, undoubtably a consequence of having taken the net down yesterday that had been furled up and out of action due to bad weather for most of the week.

Feral Pigeon, Woodpigeon, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Robin, Dunnock, Wren, Collared Dove, Grey Squirrel, Chaffinch...

In an attempt to drag my year list into double figures, and to get a bit of fresh air, my mum and I took a walk to the local woods.

The weather was pretty filthy with not much more than 'the usual' on show—though that did include a Stock Dove and a Buzzard perched on the edge of the wood.  My first ever sighting of a perched Buzzard in Liverpool, if that's of any interest...

Year list 2012: 24.  Permission to give up already?