Wednesday, 18 March 2015

African Adventure

Most of the best trips seem to come from a chance conversation and this recent one was no different.

We didn't really think he was serious when Roger said 'why don't you come to Uganda ringing?' A few months later our flights were booked!!

Roger recommended a local guide called Harriet (let me know it you would like her details) and things were sorted. She organised all the accommodation, transport, access to the parks, pretty much everything.

We were very fortunate to end up with two guides along with our driver. This really helped us to reach a total of 428 bird species in 2 weeks.

The accommodation was very good and varied from 4* to long drop toilets and outside showers. Not a problem at all.

Transport was good although many of the minor roads were poor. There wasn't too much travelling apart from a couple of long drives (4 & 5hr drives) although there were birding stops along the way.

I am planning to post a few reports on the different areas we visited and the birds and wildlife seen in the coming weeks

Pic 1 - sunset over Lake Victoria
Pic 2 - 50,000 over this lake. An amazing sight
Pic 3 - our final supper. Fish & chips Ugandan style
Pic 4 - the very swish Primate Lodge in Kibale Forest
Pic 5 - we crossed it at least twice
Pic 6 - forest birding
Pic 7 - Ugandan town

Sunday, 22 February 2015

A bird in the hand

One of the great things about my job is the interaction with visitors to the reserve. Its not good all the time and it does get a bit wearing the same moans all the time but when you get the opportunity to inspire people its the best feeling in the world.

Last week, as part of our half-term activities, I put on a couple of short ringing demonstrations by the visitor centre. A couple of feeders and a 20' mist net were enough to catch a nice selection of birds. Mainly tits were caught but greenfinch, goldfinch, long tailed tit and robin were different.

The ringing was a fantastic way to capture the imagination of people and show them common birds up close for the first time. It is always great to see the smiles on the faces of the children and they especially love it when the blue tits peck me hard!  It is also a great opportunity to talk about the important role that ringing plays in bird research and conservation and to encourage people to support the work of the BTO and RSPB.

We had a really nice email from a visitor that really made my week saying how their family had been inspired by their visit :-)

Monday, 9 February 2015

Magical Grouse

The whole reason for heading over to North Wales was to see the lekking black grouse. I have seen them several times in Scotland and northern England but never in the breeding season.

We left our hotel before dawn and climbed up into the local hills. The fog on the drive up wasn't great but thankfully the roads were clear of snow.  Thanks to Alan D we found the right spot to park and straight away could hear the strange bubbling and hissing calls before it had even got light. A magical sound :-)
Thankfully the birds were close to the road as the viewing conditions were rubbish, windy with low cloud.
As it got lighter, more and more males could be seen strutting their stuff on their favoured little patch of ground with their tail feathers spread and white undertail coverts fluffed up. Several times, intruding males caused a full on scrap. Most of the birds were males with 13 of the 15 being males.

We thought we would drive across the moorland road to see if there was any clearer weather but sadly it was just as bad. We did bump into another lek with at least 18 lekking males.

By the time we got back to the original site, all the birds had moved off. Can't grumble with 33 black grouse in a couple of hours!

The rest of the morning was spend on the Dee and the Wirral.

1st stop was Burton Mere Wetlands where on arrival in the visitor centre a ringtail hen harrier was hunting over the marsh. The main target was a roosting long eared owl that gave great views to about 10m! Several whooper swans and a stack of pinkies were nice.

Final stop of the trip was 'wonderfully scenic' seafront boating lake in New Brighton to twitch the 1st winter laughing gull. Typically it was present when we arrived but after a few minutes it was picked up circling around the local shops. Eventually it dropped right down in front of us and gave fantastic close views. A British tick for me :-)
Just when we thought the trip was over, 2 purple sandpipers flew into the jetty to roost with the redshank.

A great way to end a great trip. Special thanks to Ruth and Alan for their help in finding some quality birds.

Pic 1, 2 - murky black grouse leks
Pic 3, 4, 5 - Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB reserve
Pic 6, 7 roosting long eared owl
Pic 8 - New Brighton boating lark
Pic 9, 10, 11 - 1st winter laighing gull
Pic 12 - one of two roosting purple sandpipers

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Anglesey Adventure

Wen we opened the curtains this morning and couldn't see the Great Orme because of fog, our hopes for the day were not good. A full English did lift spirits a little bit.

The fog was pretty dense all the way onto Anglesey but, if by magic, the sun was breaking through by the time we reached Beddmanarch Bay. Tide was pretty high with good numbers of curlew and oystercatcher roosting. Scanning the estuary produced a slav grebe, a few goldeneye and 140 smart looking pale bellied brent geese. Not something often in Norfolk.

Now in full sunshine we headed to Holyhead harbour. Almost straight away we found the Great Northern diver which was just starting to moult into summer plumage. At least 6 black guillemots were about including a couple already in full summer plumage.
Just as we were about to leave I heard a wader-like call from the harbour behind us and was rather surprised to see a black necked grebe. Apparently a scarce bird here :-)

On a high we left for South Stack where we bagged chough before we even got out of the car!
The last time I visited the site was to see the BLACK LARK :-)
Not a great deal changed but is was nice to see the cliffs and walk to the bottom of the steps to the lighthouse. Another 4 chough, several raven, 2 peregrines, good numbers of aukd and a harbour porpoise were seen.

The rest of the day was spent checking sites along the southern side of the island. 3 long tailed ducks on the Inland Sea, 22 goosander at Llyn Coron, 162 pintail on the Cobb Pool.

Last stop was the RSPB reserve at Malltraeth Marsh. Although the site was quiet, I was jammy in seeing the small flock of Greenland white-fronted geese. Having heard they had flown off a while before and couldn't be seen I was very lucky that the greylag flock were flushed and I could here the white-fronts calling. Although fairly distant, I could see 19 birds in flight. Everything in the hitlist for the day seen.
The walk back to the car produced 7 raven, 2 little egrets and a buzzard.

A great day but only the warmup act for tomorrow...

Pic 1 - mmmmmmm
Pic 2 - Beddmanarch Bay
Pic 3, 4 - Holyhead harbour
Pic 5 - black guillemot
Pic 6 - record shot of the black necked grebe
Pic 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 - South Stack
Pic 12 - raven
Pic 13 - female peregrine at South Stack
Pic 14 - Malltraeth Marsh RSPB reserve

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Wonderful Wales

My initial plan was to try and get out this early spring and see a black grouse lek having only seen single birds before.

An internet search revealed that a site close to Wrexham was probably the best bet.

So to make the most of trip we decided to do a long weekend birding trip to North Wales focussing on species we don't get in Norfolk.

A 5am start from Norfolk saw us joining up with Alan Davies at Old Colwyn prom to look for seaducks. The calm sea and sun made searching through the scoter flock easier and we soon had several velvet scoter in view. After a bit of time we managed our target species, 2 drake surf scoter. Although they were at least a mile offshore, the white nape patches made them stand out like a sore thumb! Further searching located another drake and a female. Loads of red throated divers and some nice displaying red breasted mergs were about.

A quick stop at Rhos on Sea bagged 8 roosting purple sands before heading to Llanfairfechan. 3 slav grebe, great northern and loads of red throated divers were added along with a nice bacon roll.
A search of the small stream that runs though the town eventually revealed a dipper along with a couple of grey wags.

Final stop of the day was in a stunning Welsh valley to the south of Bethesda to look for some wintering ring ouzels. Thankfully two of the birds (male & female) were showing well feeding close to the road plus another 2 males on flight. Despite a lot of the snow having gone, the scenery was stunning (not used to mountains in Norfolk!) with a bonus 3 goosander on the lake at the head of the valley.

A fantastic days birding and a Alan is a  highly recommended guide if you are looking to do a visit to the area :-)

Pic 1 - Rhos on Sea
Pic 2, 3 - roosting purple sand @ Rhos on Sea
Pic 4 - dipper site
Pic 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 - valley south of Bethesda inc male ring ouzel
Pic 11 - Little Orme from the Great Orme
Pic 12 - looking west towards Anglesey from the Great Orme

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Cloudy Cley, Sunny Salthouse

We decided to head along the coast last weekend for a circular walk taking in a bit of sea and farmland. We headed from Cley along the shingle ridge to Salthouse, inland across Salthouse Heath and back to the coast road.

It wasn't meant to be a birding walk but we did pick up a few things. Along the East Bank we came across a party of 15+ bearded tits feeding right next to the track. They didn't seem bothered by all the people walking by although I am pretty sure many didn't even see them.
Along what is left of the shingle ridge was a pair of stonechat and a large flock of 70+ goldfinch but the highlight was a flock of 63 snow buntings. They were very approachable and didn't seem bothered by us being there. Most of them were preening and one even looked like it was sleeping! We dropped onto the beach so not to disturb them and headed onto Salthouse.

The walk up through the village and up onto the heath was quiet. Several small groups of pinkies flew over and a couple of mistle thrushes feeding with some horses.

The sun started to come out on the heath showing up the flowering gorse nicely. A bit of pishing pulled out several goldcrests from the scrub but otherwise it was quiet.

Nice weather and a nice walk

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Spring-like Holkham

After all the winds of the last few weeks, it was a relief to see the trees barely moving this morning. I decided to head to Holkham with the plan of doing the park and the grazing marshes.

It already felt like spring was close with lots of early birdsong in the woods. Great tits were very vocal along with a couple of nuthatch by the memorial. By the time I had walked most of the way around the lake the sun had come out producing a lovely soft light.

Good numbers of duck were still on the lake. 65 tufted duck, 47 gadwall, 33 shoveler and 21 pochard. Territorial egyptian geese were very much in evidence and its always bizarre to see them perched high in the trees!! Marsh tit was a nice surprise on the feeders by the gatehouse.

Quick early lunch then off down Lady Ann's Drive. Bumped into Ashley Saunders with his Oriole Adventures group who put me on to where the whitefront flock was hanging out.

At the start of the path along edge of the marshes I bumped into a large tit flock. Loads of long tailed and a good number of goldcrests. Highlight was a firecrest moving through with them. Despite calling over another couple of birders we couldn't relocate it.

I was hoping to see the wintering rough legged buzzard from the Jordan Hide but alas no sign. Several common buzzards and marsh harriers were hunting including a very pale patterned female marsh that I have seen at Titchwell this winter too.
I did locate the flock of whitefronts (21) but they were hard to see feeding amongst the tall vegetation.
To end the afternoon a barn owl flew right in front of the hide and dropped onto a small vole.
By the time I got back to the car the rain was just starting, by the time I got home it was snowing! Perfect timing :-)