Thursday, 14 February 2019

North Norfolk - 7th-10th February

Sarah had brought for me, at Christmas, a photography course with David Tipling and so we all headed up to North Norfolk for the weekend. David is a recent convert from Nikon to Olympus and is now an ambassador for Olympus. The main aim for me was to glean some of his knowledge in using the Olympus set-up for bird photography, particularly in low light. Since switching from Canon to the Olympus OMD MK-1 Mark II, I had been struggling to get the results that I had been achieving with the Canon and so felt that I needed some guidance. David's website can be viewed here, he runs a range of courses and I would throughly recommend booking with him if you are new to Olympus.

We travelled up on 7th arriving in North Norfolk at 15:00, to stretch the legs after a 4.5 hour drive we headed to Titchwell and walked out to the beach. There were large numbers of Brent Goose on the reserve but water levels were high and bird numbers low. On the beach I scanned the sea and picked up Red-necked Grebe, three Slavonian Grebe and a few Common Eider. On the beach were large numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot and Sanderling. At 16:30 with Sarah cold and Tobias tired it was time to head for the hotel and a much needed beer.

On Friday 8th I met David at 07:30 in dark, windy and fairly wet conditions and we drove to his woodland hide where we spent the first few hours of the day. Despite the poor weather conditions there were good numbers of birds coming into his pool and feeders and over the morning we had good views of many common woodland birds - unfortunately, the Marsh Tit which were so vocal around the hide only dropped down for brief visits. We spent much of our time working through the camera settings and becoming familiar with the menu's and learning to shoot in the low light conditions.

Great-spotted Woodpecker

Great-spotted Woodpecker

Eurasian Blackbird

Great Tit

Common Pheasant

Coal Tit

European Robin

We then went onto Cley where the wind was blowing a gale and, at times, the rain was almost horizontal. We spent some time studying the flock of several hundred Brent Goose along the Beach Road. At the beach we walked east along the shingle to see if we could see a Glaucous Gull that had been present feeding on a dead seal but unfortunately the bird was distant and roosting on the marsh. A flock of around 30 Snow Bunting gave some consolation but it was very difficult to photograph them in the high wind.

Brent Geese - Cley-Next-The-Sea

Brent Geese - Cley-Next-The-Sea

Brent Geese - Cley-Next-The-Sea

Snow Bunting - Cley-Next-The-Sea

Snow Bunting - Cley-Next-The-Sea

We had a brief lunch stop at Morston Quay where we were hoping for an obliging Spotted Redshank but instead there was an obliging Common Redshank. We headed in-land scanning the fields and eventually found a covee of 16 Grey Partridge at fairly close range

Common Redshank - Morston Quay

Grey Partridge 

Grey Partridge

We then went onto a small stream where David had been feeding a Water Rail, it wasn't long before the bird appeared at close range but unfortunately the bird did not show for long, presumably due to the high winds. We finished the day at Holme Marshes Reserve hoping for a Bittern or a Barn Owl but saw neither. Despite the windy and occasionally wet day we had seen a few nice species and I had definitely found a new confidence with my Olympus set-up; now time to practice.

Water Rail

Water Rail - I quite like the sharp head and the movement shown in the legs and body in this shot

On Saturday we woke to a sunny day but the wind was even stronger. After a leisurely breakfast I convinced Sarah and Tobias that a short walk along the shingle at Cley to see the Glaucous Gull feeding on a dead seal was a good idea but when we arrived, not only was it nearly impossible to stand, but once again the gull was off on the marsh and was far too distant. I think even Tobias was upset at dipping seeing the gull feed on a dead seal. On the return walk a flock of some 70 Snow Bunting was some conciliation. We then headed inland to the road between Wiveton and Langham where up to four 'Tundra' Bean Goose have been present with c.3,000 Pink-footed Geese since 5th February. We stopped route to watch boxing Hare's which are always enthralling to watch. On arrival at the sugar-beet field where the geese were frequenting, there were a few birders present and I was soon onto a couple of Bean Goose. They were very easy to pick-out of the masses of Pink-footed Goose by way of their bright orange legs.

Pink-footed Goose - Between Wiveton and Langham 

'Tundra' Bean Goose with Pink-footed Goose - Between Wiveton and Langham 

Pink-footed Goose, note the Barnacle Goose at the top of the image, I failed to notice this bird and my images show two birds to be present - Between Wiveton and Langham 


We then headed to Holkham where a flock of c.30 Horned Lark have been wintering, we parked on Lady Anne Drive, which is like a zoo now that the new visitor centre has been constructed. Sarah and Tobias wanted to stay in the car due to the wind so I walked swiftly to Holkham Gap through the crowds and quickly came across a small group of birders watching the Shore Lark. The birds were moderately close, maybe 20m away, feeding in the saltmarsh vegetation. Always great to see these stunning little birds. I watched them for around 15 minutes until the flock took off and flew north much further away from the path, in flight I counted 29 birds, the largest flock I had seen in the UK.

Horned Lark - Holkham Gap

Horned Lark - Holkham Gap

Egyptian Goose - Lady Annes Drive, Holkham

After dropping Sarah back at the hotel for a spa treatment, Tobias and I set-out to look for Barn Owl, he was really keen to see Barn Owl. We drove from Burnham Market and out to the coast road and fairly quickly I spotted a distant Barn Owl hunting the meadows to the north of the coast road at Burnham Overy Mill. The bird headed north-west and we followed it along the main road to Norton Hall Farm where we eventually had great views. Tobias was made up with this and wanted a toy Barn Owl to celebrate so we popped to Titchwell where we obtained said toy and also got good views of a Woodcock in the car park. We spent the last hour of the day driving the fields inland trying to get photos and more looks of Hare but despite seeing many we never found one close enough for decent photos. The highlight was a fantastic flock of around 5,000 Pink-footed Goose that we came across in fields north of Stanhoe, as we parked on the verge next to the fields the flock took flight and passed overhead, an amazing site and sound.

Barn Owl - Norton Hall Farm, Burnham Norton

Barn Owl - Norton Hall Farm, Burnham Norton

Barn Owl - Norton Hall Farm, Burnham Norton

Eurasian Woodcock - Titchwell RSPB Car Park

On Sunday we woke to heavy rain and so afterbreakfast we headed back and were home by 14:30 just in time to watch England thrash France in the Six Nations, a fine end to a highly enjoyable weekend.

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Labrador RSPB Reserve, Teignmouth - 30th Januray

On a cold and snowy late-Januray day I headed down to Devon for a breif survey, knowing that the drive would be almost six hours return and with some time to spare I headed to look for Cirl Bunting at the RSPB's reserve at Labrador Bay. The reserve is located on a beautiful stretch of Devonshire coastline a few miles south of Teignmouth and, as well as being picturesque, is home to a thriving population of Cirl Bunting, a bird I have not seen in the UK for a good few years. I arrived on site at just gone 10:00 and after a short walk encountered my first flock of around 25 Cirl Bunting feeding in a weedy field. A short way on I came across another, similar sized, but more confiding flock and spent an hour or so with this flock enjoying the stunning males and subtle females as they fed in the weedy fields at this beautiful reserve. All too soon it was time to head off to do a bat survey at a demolition site - a marked contrast to Labrador Bay.

Cirl Bunting (male) - Labrador Bay RSPB Reserve, Teignmouth, Devon

Cirl Bunting (male) - Labrador Bay RSPB Reserve, Teignmouth, Devon

Cirl Bunting (female) - Labrador Bay RSPB Reserve, Teignmouth, Devon

Cirl Bunting (male) - Labrador Bay RSPB Reserve, Teignmouth, Devon

Cirl Bunting (female) - Labrador Bay RSPB Reserve, Teignmouth, Devon

Cirl Bunting (male) - Labrador Bay RSPB Reserve, Teignmouth, Devon

Cirl Bunting (male) - Labrador Bay RSPB Reserve, Teignmouth, Devon

Cirl Bunting (male) - Labrador Bay RSPB Reserve, Teignmouth, Devon

Chaffinch (male) - Labrador Bay RSPB Reserve, Teignmouth, Devon

Labrador Bay RSPB Reserve, Teignmouth, Devon

Labrador Bay RSPB Reserve, Teignmouth, Devon

Interpretation Board - Labrador Bay RSPB Reserve, Teignmouth, Devon

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Eyeworth Pond and Milkham Inclosure, New Forest - 12th January

I at last had a spare weekend and so decided to head into the New Forest for a few hours. There had been a White-tailed Eagle present on and off in the Roe Inclosure/Bratley Plain area south-east of Linwood since 16th December. While the bird had been seen yesterday, sightings had become sporadic and I treated this more like a wander in a part of the forest which often produces some interesting birds with a chance of seeing the eagle rather than as a concerted hunt for the eagle.

I started in the semi-dark at Eyeworth Pond just to the north-west of Fritham. On the pond were a couple of male Goosander, 16 Mandarin Duck and two Gadwall. I wandered north-east through the woodland to the adjacent heathland at Howen Bottom and picked up half a dozen Marsh Tit and a male Goshawk circling over the heathland before it headed south towards Fritham.

Mandarin Duck - Eyeworth Pond, Fritham

After leaving Eyeworth Pond I took a slow drive south-westwards through the forest picking up a few Stonechat, Mistle Thrush and other common forest species. As I passed Janesmoor Pond I picked up a nice group of three male and a female Goosander and so, pulling into the carpark here I spent a little time photographing them. They were a little distant and the light was poor and so the beautiful greens of the males heads are difficult to see but the pinkish tones of the white feathering is apparent.

Goosander - Janesmoor Pond, Fritham

Goosander - Janesmoor Pond, Fritham

Goosander - Janesmoor Pond, Fritham

I headed on and parked in the carpark at the eastern end of Milkham Inclosure. I then walked a large loop through Milkham Inclosure and into Roe Inclosure hoping to bump into the White-tailed Eagle but it was not to be. There were good numbers of Siskin, a calling Goshawk and half a dozen Common Crossbill but it was a little slow going. After a couple of hours I headed back to the car and decided to call it a day.

Common Crossbill - Milkham Inclosure, Linwood

Common Crossbill - Milkham Inclosure, Linwood

Common Crossbill - Milkham Inclosure, Linwood

Monday, 14 January 2019

Pennington Marsh - 9th January

Tobias returned to school today after his Christmas break and I took the opportunity, after drop off, to have a quick wander at Pennington Marsh. It was a glorious sunny and mild winters day and it was a pleasure to be out and about. I stopped at the corner at Lower Pennington Lane and scanned the marshes, much of the water was frozen and there were relatively few birds but a flock of around 250 Golden Plover were resplendent in the mornings sunshine. Otherwise, there were around 18 Common Snipe, 150 Lapwing and a handful of Shoveler, Teal and Wigeon but not a lot else. I then wandered out to the sea wall where scanning to sea produced six Red-breasted Merganser and a similar number of Eider. Walking west along the seawall there were good numbers of wildfowl on the lagoons with many of the Teal and Pintail displaying in the sunshine and the Wigeon whistling away. At Fishtail Lagoon I paused and scanned the masses of wildfowl present, many of the birds seemed to be sleeping and soaking up the sunshine, a welcome break from a long series of overcast and rather chilly days. There were at least ten Reed Bunting in the bushes, the males just starting to show a hint of their summer plumage as the duller winter feather fringes wear away to reveal their brighter basal colouration which forms their breeding plumage. At Keyhaven Lagoon there were around 30 Tufted Duck and a similar number of Coot and after a bit of a scan I located the 1st winter male Scaup which has been present since 29th December. The bird was initially asleep but showing at fairly close range but after a few minutes it awoke and began to feed, the sullied flanks and pale scaling on the breast and rump/ventral area identifying the bird as a first winter. This was a site tick for me, not bad for the first visit of the year. The time was ticking on and I needed to get into the office, a quick scan of Efford Lagoon produced little but a Chiffchaff was calling and showed briefly in the car park.

1st winter male Greater Scaup with Tufted Duck - Keyhaven Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

1st winter male Greater Scaup - Keyhaven Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

1st winter male Greater Scaup - Keyhaven Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Eurasian Wigeon - Fishtail Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Northern Pintail - Fishtail Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Reed Bunting - Fishtail Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

 Reed Bunting - Fishtail Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Eurasian Bullfinch - Lower Pennington Lane Car Park, Pennington Marsh