Sunday, 28 July 2013

Snettisham Lagoons

12th July 2013

Following successful visits to Titchwell and the Hunstanton Fulmar colony, it was time to round off the day at Snettisham lagoons and beach. The lagoons are in fact dis-used gravel pits, with the inland ones by the RSPB car park being used for fishing. It was therefore perhaps not too surprising that the first bird we saw was an Egyptian Goose, as Norfolk is one of their strongholds.

Further along the path a Wood Pigeon was busy building its nest and was totally unperturbed by spectators. Wood Pigeons breed all the year round, but tend to cram in as many broods as they can during the summer months.

A jangling song at the top of a Hawthorn was an adult male Goldfinch keeping a watch-out over the surrounding grassland. I have always found these difficult to photograph, even when they are quite close, but this one came out reasonably well against the blue sky background. How nice to have the sun in the right place for once.

The area was quite busy with small birds flitting in all directions, but mostly obscured by the long vegetation or too distant. However, a family of young Whitethroats did provide an opportunity and were quite confiding, not too surprising when you consider that we were probably the first humans they had seen.

.....and now on to the beach.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Shooting Fulmars 2013

12th July 2013

No day at Titchwell would be complete without a visit to that sea bird heaven, Hunstanton Cliffs. Well, Fulmar Petrels to be precise. The petrels nest on the cliffs and, now that the young are well grown or even flying, are spending much of their day just cruising backwards and forwards along the cliff wall, occasionally rising above the top and will even look at you as they go by.

In the past I have likened it to fishing as you require lots of patience, electric reflexes and a huge dose of luck. The reflexes are required as you only get a few seconds between them appearing above the cliff and dropping out of view. But I was quite pleased with this selection.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

A Ruff Time at Titchwell

12th July 2013

Off to Titchwell again with Stuart to see what mid-summer had to offer, and the first sighting was a little unexpected. As we were scanning the saltmarsh for harriers and waders, we were not expecting......... a deer. Now, I am not a deer expert, as in Herts we only get Fallow Deer and Muntjac on a regular basis, although I have seen the odd Roe Deer and Red Deer elsewhere. But this individual was not instantly recognisable.

The size, large round ears and big black nose was reminiscent of a Roe Deer, but its fur was too pale and its snout too pointed, and we eventually found out that it was in fact a Chinese Water Deer. I have never seen these before, but for some reason was under the impression that they were smaller than Muntac, which is clearly not the case. It is probably a young male as you can just see the start of a tusk-like tooth.

The next bit of excitement was the arrival of eight Spoonbills. A few years ago this would have been a mega record, but they now breed at Holkham Freshmarsh along the coast so parties like this are becoming more and more common.

A little further along the beach path I noticed a gull fly in and start feeding about 30-40 yards away. There were also a few Black-headed Gulls with the same idea, but the smaller size of this individual gave it away as a Little Gull. Many people don't give gulls a second look so most people walked straight past, with the exception of those who were wondering what I was photographing so intently. Note the dainty black bill.


But the piece de resistance of the day was the wader which was feeding nearby, a male Ruff just moulting out of its breeding plumage. These stunning birds often get mistaken for Redshanks, due to their red legs.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Harrier Heaven

7th July 2013

Off to Lakenheath again, this time to try and photograph Marsh Harriers which should be feeding young by now. The best place for these is the Joist Fen viewpoint, but first a breakfast pit-stop at New Fen. During the winter months I had noticed a bird table tucked in beside the reeds, but it was empty, had no birds coming to it and therefore forgot all about it. But today was different as all eyes at the viewpoint were glued to it. For today there were up to five Bearded Tits coming to it on a regular basis.

But they were not coming for bird seed. In the nest the young birds are fed insects, but when they fledge they change their diet to seed. So on this tray was grit which helps them digest the seed. Interestingly, only young birds were seen at or around the bird table.

Further up the track at Joist Fen a male Reed Bunting was singing away from the top of a Phragmites head, presumably while his female was sitting on their second clutch of eggs.

But after a while he gave that up and did a spot of sunbathing on top of a post. Note the open bill so that he can pant like a dog, and the spread wings and tail to maximise the area.

But now on to the main feature of the day, the Marsh Harriers. For several weeks there had been a nest a hundred yards out from the viewpoint. The young had obviously hatched and appeared to have dispersed a short distance from the nest as the male kept going out for food, but was bringing it back to a slightly different place each time. It soon became apparent that his favourite hunting area was the other side of the river which he crossed both going out and coming back at almost the same point each time. So this was obviously the place to wait with camera in hand.

It worked and, although the bird never came quite as close as I would have liked, it did provide a number of opportunities.

For better reproduction of my photos, see my photo gallery at


Saturday, 13 July 2013

Another Flycatcher

3rd July 2013

I had heard rumours of another Spotted Flycatcher frequenting yet another churchyard, but apparently elusive which is quite unusual. So, in a spare couple of hours, I paid a visit to try my luck.

On arrival at the site, a quick scan of the gravestones yielded a blank, as did a circuit of the church and its various pinnacles, flying buttresses and gargoyles. It wasn't looking very hopeful. I therefore had just one more walk down the graveyard and there, sitting in full view on one of the gravestones was a flycatcher. I managed to get a couple of shots before it flew off.

I waited another hour for it to reappear, especially now that the dull day had given way to sunshine, but without luck. The fact that this was a lone bird would hopefully suggest that the female was sitting on eggs and not necessarily in the churchyard, but when the young fledged there was a high probability that they would be brought to the churchyard to do a spot of fly-catching from the gravestones. I'll be back.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Sedge Warbler Thinks It's a Hobby

27th June 2013

I was still at Oare Marshes and took a stroll down the road to join a small group of birders scanning the pools. However, on the way I was distracted by a Sedge Warbler in full song from the top of a bush. I approached very carefully, snapping away as I went, and eventually got within 10 yards allowing some really good shots.

However, what I witnessed then was bizarre. A Blue-tailed Damselfly was drifting across the bushes minding its own business and obviously totally oblivious to the presence of the Sedge warbler which could not believe his luck. Just follow his eyes.

How about that for a nice juicy meal without even leaving your perch. He had obviously been watching the Hobbys that hunt over the marshes.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Bonaparte's Gull at Oare Marshes

27th June 2013

James had to vacate his house by Sunday and I had been commissioned to bring home the bulk of his stuff on the Thursday. The problem was that he would not be back at his house from teaching until 4.00pm. So what was I going to do for six hours? In such situations I would normally go to Stodmarsh and try to photograph the Marsh Harriers and Bearded Tits, but today was different. There was a Bonaparte's Gull calling me at Oare Marshes.

I had only been to Oare Marshes once before, about 25 years ago, to see a Long-billed Dowitcher, although it is only across the Swale from Harty Marshes where Stuart and I go every year for the raptors. Apparently, the bird spends most of its time at low tide on the nearby Oare Creek, only coming on to the freshwater lagoons at high tide, which today was at 4.00pm. However, just in case it had broken tradition, I had a quick scan of the marshes.

There were several bird on the islands including a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits, many summer-plumaged birds, amongst the Black-headed Gulls. For those of you with good eyesight there is a male Teal in front of the central Grey Lag Goose, and a summer-plumaged Ruff in the water on the extreme right.

No luck there, so on to the sea wall by the creek where it would be expected to be. A quick scan along the shore-line revealed just a few Black-headed Gulls, although I did come across a gathering of small black and white fluffy things - a family of baby Shelducks. I don't think I have ever seen Shelduck ducklings so small.

So on to the hide at the intersection of the creek and the Swale itself. There were a few Black-headed Gulls strewn across the mud, but there was one particular individual which caught my attention. The Black-headed gulls were either full adults or obvious 1st summer birds, but this was a much smaller bird with a very smokey head and a particularly dark patch behind the eye. This was the 1st summer Bonaparte's Gull.

A vagrant from North America, the Bonapart'e Gull is slightly smaller than the Black-headed Gull, is a much neater bird, has a shorter black bill and shorter pinkish legs.

This photo shows the size comparison with a Black-headed Gull.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

An Early Arrival at Rye Meads

20th June 2013

More evidence of the topsy-turvy year we are experiencing. As I arrived at the Draper's Hide, the first bird I saw was the first Green Sandpiper of the Autumn. This is about two weeks earlier than normal, but is not an isolated incident. Another Green Sandpiper had been seen the day before at Amwell, possibly the same bird, and a further two at Lemsford Springs. So even the birds are confused by the rather random weather patterns.

On to the Ashby Hide which by comparison was very quiet. A lone Heron had the place to himself and was stealthily working the pond for goodies, occasionally stopping to sort out those important feathers.

The most significant change at Rye Meads over the last three years has been the activity on the tern rafts. I launched the first raft in the late 1960s, and since then the Common Tern colony has grow to several tens of pairs. However, a few years ago at Brent Reservoir the terns there started to be pushed off the rafts by nesting Black-headed Gulls, a totally new phenomenon. Unfortunately this trait has spread rapidly up the Lea Valley over the last three years and now Black-headed Gulls dominate the rafts at both Rye Meads and Amwell. The tern strategy now appears to be to let the gulls raise their chicks and leave the rafts, and then have a late brood.

But the star of the show today was the Little Grebe and its chick which performed so well right outside the Draper Hide. Nice!!