Saturday 31 January 2009

Little Gulls

After missing several Little Gulls yesterday I had decided to get out seawatching early this morning hoping some more would oblige, after all the weather conditions were much the same. At 8:00 I was just making my way through the boat park at the yacht club when I got a text from Gav, it said "7 Now!" This was the first time I'd looked at my phone for about half an hour because I'd 'put it down somewhere' (like you do). I had therefore missed an earlier text and was obviously wondering, 7 whats? When I arrived outside the clubhouse Gav and Bun were watching seven Little Gulls! (somehow I think you'd guessed that by now). Six of them flew almost overhead and up the river, the seventh vanished, probably landing on the sea. Lots of gulls were moving from the sea to the river and back all the while, so it was difficult to keep track of how many Littles there were exactly but I reckon at least ten, possibly eleven. A few were definitely new because they passed by much further out and kept going. The sea was generally pretty quiet but the Little Gulls were more than entertaining enough, with several eventually returning to loiter and feed just a few waves out from the beach. They really were very smart and especially enjoyable because I'd only ever seen singles before. Gav decided to try and digiscope one before he left, I must admit I'd been thinking about this possibility too and I eventually decided to have a go at it for a couple of reasons.

1) Being such a maniacal egotist I couldn't sit back and watch Gav get a patch photo scoop (I think ?) all to himself, now could I?!
2) Although conditions were hideous I could see Gav sitting on the beach, scope and camera employed, looking all comfy and relaxed...erm I thought....obviously it's a doddle then!

Bun kindly minded my scope while I popped home for my camera but before I'd managed to set it up, a single close Little Gull moved quickly past me to the east so I had to head off down the yacht club car park in pursuit. The car park is very exposed and it was FREEZING! I set to work waving camera and scope in the correct general direction and within about a minute my hands were next to useless with the cold, (I can't work the camera's titchy buttons with gloves on), my gloves had blown away and then my scope fell over! I soon gave up, but fortunately I did get a few recognisable shots, thank goodness for continuous shooting mode!

Most of my shots were turning out like this stunning effort... the bird is in it... just!

Then this happened. I was still shooting as my scope blew over!

Here's a few of my best efforts, upper wing, under-wing and paddling:

Nice birds, seen really well. Definitely worth getting frozen!

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Our 'First' Cattle Egrets of the Year

I was in Axmouth just after 7:00 this morning along with Gav, Steve and Bun to see how many Cattle Egrets were in fact in the roost, if you've read Steve's blog already, you'll know there were THREE, you'll also know that they returned to the field in Colyton where Steve found one of them yesterday. There was thick river mist in the Coly Vally this morning and as soon as it had just about cleared I went looking for them. I pulled in by a driveway and could immediately see all three. Two together and one in another field on it's own. Obviously I was itching to digiscope them, I don't know why. I set up my scope and when I got my camera out the batteries were flat (probably something to do with Norfolk), desperate for a photo of some sort I tried my S3, I got one shot and it said " change the batteries" Pants!! Here's that one photo, It's rubbish but I'm putting it on because it's a nice addition to my 'White Blob Portfolio'

I've already wowed you with 'Big White Snowy Blob' and 'Great White Blob' I called this one 'Cattle Blobs'

It just wasn't good enough though, I just had to digiscope them. I popped home for another camera and when I returned Ian Waite had just seen them fly into the next field along, which fortunately was visible from another vantage point. So my digiscoping dreams were to come true after all. Yeah right!, It doesn't matter how many Egrets you photograph it doesn't get any easier, it sends the exposure on the camera potty so that most turn out as glary white messes. Today I somehow managed to get a couple of reasonable shots. I know Steve has posted LOADS of excellent snaps but that wont stop me putting mine on, the reason being that they are the ONLY ones I'll take this year. If we have any more Cattle Egrets (which I think is a pretty safe bet) I will NOT be taking pictures of them, I wont! No really I WONT!

Egret magnets. Cows and mud an irresistible combination, oh, and a few more white blobs, in this picture you can (or can't) see 'Little Blobs' 'Cattle Blobs, and a couple of 'Black-headed Blobs'

Cattle Egrets, much more characterful than Little Egrets for some reason.

I also took a small video, it starts off brilliantly with some superb pooing (blink and you'll miss it) before getting very predictable. The interesting thing about it though is that you can see how the camera is struggling with the automatic exposure setting, it just can't make it's mind up.

On the way home I was held up for a while on Cownhayne Lane, by this:

A novel approach to muck spreading. Bye heck, it didn't half hum! These two unfortunate ladies were probably not enjoying their amble down a country lane as much as they'd hoped. When the slurry ran out, the blower kept going temporally, so spraying the air with a fine 'cow poo fog' which left a film on my windscreen, I'm very glad I wasn't walking! Very!

Yesterday I walked to Jubilee Gardens I didn't see any birds of note but on the way back I stopped to take a snap of this pretty view.

The rainbow ends at the 'Enchanted Farm Gate' from where certain people can spot Cattle Egrets that are two miles away!!

For anyone who's read Gav's blog post " Once upon a time in a second-hand car dealership" and agrees with him that his sensible Volvo 240 Estate is a little on the Grandad-y side then take a look at what the Woolleys used to sneak around in! In the grandad-y stakes it leaves the Volvo on the start line I think:

Cool or what!? Lada Riva Saloon, the car that looks like it was drawn by a 5 year old! Beige and grandad-y in the extreme. What can I say it was CHEAP!! This photo was taken at Stiffkey in North Norfolk, September 1989 I think, for some reason we had the campsite to ourselves!

The best thing about owning a Lada in the early 1990's was that they became very popular in the Baltic countries after the break up of the Soviet Union. When we came to sell it, the moment the advert hit the press we had three groups of gentlemen from Lithuania having a 'heated discussion' on the pavement outside our house, this involved posturing, spitting (ugh!) and plenty of what we took to be Lithuanian profanities! After a while one man stepped up and said "We will buy the car, this man has the money" The man in question dipped his hand into a Tesco's carrier full of used notes! Easiest car sale ever!

I myself never got the privilege of driving the Lada because I didn't take my test until the mid-nineties. Once on the road I could choose my own 'wheels' and here they are:

What a car! What a colour! Even I couldn't lose this in the car park - surely the 'best car ever!'

Saturday 24 January 2009

And The Winner is.....

Last year as you may know we had a patch yearlist competition, and I thought that I had been narrowly beaten by Ian. Not so though, it appears that I did in fact win. Oh the kudos! I've been eagerly looking forward to receiving my prize but as the end of January approaches there has, as of yet, been no sign of either the original prize of half a bottle of disgusting red wine, (Gav obviously hasn't opened one disgusting enough to leave half of yet) nor have I received the amended prize of twenty five second hand golf balls!

Well today all that has changed. My desperate urge for recognition combined with a rampant egotistic streak caused me to get out my 'One Hundred Things To Make and Do' book and knock up a trophy for myself and here it is:

A superb trophy indeed! Cunningly crafted out of twenty-five second hand golf balls and a cheese board in the style of the 'Ferrero Rocher school'

Now that this fantastic trophy is up for grabs I reckon I'll definitely be winning any patch yearlist competition for many years to come, no?! No trophy would be worth having without an official presentation now would it? And that's just what my inflated ego was crying out for, all I needed was a person of some note locally to make the presentation. Fortunately I knew just the person, 'Seaton's Hardest Seawatcher' who kindly agreed to do the honours.

'Seaton's Hardest Seawatcher' kindly takes a short break from her 24 hour seawatching schedule to present the trophy.

Martha came along and took some video footage of the auspicious occasion which can be viewed below. If you bother to read the credits you will see that she has inherited my extreme modesty!!

Obviously I need to get out in the field and do some birding, don't I? I did visit Jubilee Gardens yesterday where I saw both Firecrests, albeit briefly and a female Black Redstart is still in the Trevelyan Road/Yacht Club vicinity, seen both today and on Thursday.Also today, I glanced over Bridge Marsh in order to tick the Greylag, got to keep my priceless trophy!

Thursday 22 January 2009


This is going to be LONG. Perhaps the biggest blog post ever!! Although Steve has posted a superb and detailed account of our trip to Norfolk I can still find a little bit to add, well rather a lot actually, mostly via photos though. There are around thirty of them, you have been warned!


First stop Welney:

The Welney Visitor Centre looked impressive, we opted for the economy option of a lay-by.

After waiting an hour and a half, at last it was light enough to look for Swans leaving the reserve. You can see our luggage in the boot, I wonder who's that 'girly' pink holdall is, coz it's not my sort of thing at all!

It was well worth the wait. Flock after flock of Bewick's and Whoopers flew right over us. Bewick's Swan was my first 'lifer' of the trip.

My next lifer was a single Corn Bunting near to Coveney in Cambridgeshire where we dipped the Rough-legged Buzzard, after doing the same with Golden Pheasants at Wolferton we finally had some better luck seeing nine Tree Sparrows (my third 'lifer' of the day) at Fincham. No photos of these. I managed the usual trick of getting superb snaps of crisply focused branches with blurred brown blobs amongst them!

On the way to the coast road we spotted a field full of Pink -footed Geese ('lifer' number four) with more arriving all the time, definitely the most geese I've ever seen together. Once on the coast road we stopped to look over the marshes near to Burnham Overy and I was quite unprepared for the spectacle of tens of thousands of geese flying overhead as the pinkies were flushed from the fields. Truly Awesome!

Pinkies were trickling over steadily at first.

Some flight shots.

I'd never seen the sky this full of birds before, ever!!

I managed to capture the flock streaming overhead on video. We were all very impressed, Steve and Bun so much so that, I've had to get Martha to add a couple of 'bleeps' to the video.

Things got even better when while driving towards Holkham, Steve and Bun simultaneously spotted a group of WAXWINGS from the car. Panic ensued and as Steve has said he made a rather hasty turn, in a far from car friendly gateway, losing a piece off his car in the process. We left it there until we'd seen the Waxwings, who wouldn't have!? Here it is:

Indirect Waxwing inflicted damage

Worth it though. Just look at this beauty!

Day one also produced a massive TEN Barn Owls, don't think I'll ever see too many though!

This started with a trip to Kelling Beach to see this stunning beast, shame about its damaged wing but it did seem fit and well otherwise.

Glaucous Gull

Then on to Holkham Gap where a flock of circa 80 Snow Buntings were just mesmerizing. I could have watched them all day! One of my highlights for sure!

A few of them on the ground....

...and in the air

I like this back lit flight shot. If you enlarge it you can see a cracking male just right of centre.

And if you can't be bothered to do that here he is anyway, what a little corker!

I didn't get any photos at our next stop, Titchwell. The Bearded Tits pinged but hid, the Goldeneye gave superb views but were diving too frequently for photos, and almost all the drake Pintails were having their siesta. There were lots of nice waders here too but mostly quite distant. The massive highlight came when a Bittern (lifer number five) flew in just minutes after we had sat down in the Fen Hide, very fortunate timing and an awesome bird, much better than I was expecting Bittern to be.

Last stop of the day was Lady Ann's Drive at Holkham and more Geese.

A nice pair of Pink-footed Geese. I was accused of flushing these to get this photo, the 'flushing' consisted of them waddling about ten feet further away!

We looked through a big flock of Brent Geese for a reported Black Brant and soon found the individual concerned.

You're looking the wrong way! It's there just to the left of the tree!

The 'Black Brant'. Steve thinks it's a bit 'dodgy' (possibly a hybrid, but I'm ticking it (lifer number six, yes I know it isn't an actual species though)

The Woodcock flying out of Holkham Pines at dusk were superb and the individual we saw in the headlights was my first ever view of one on the deck and was another memorable highlight of a second great day.


Another fabulous days birding started at Felbrigg Hall with lifer number seven, this:

A Hawfinch. Wow!

Have another look. Definitely a candidate for 'Bird of the Trip'

If that wasn't good enough, at our next stop, Waxham Barns we saw these Cranes (lifer number eight) a bird I would have been very disappointed to have left Norfolk without seeing. If I'd been alone I might have had to do just that. Steve spotted them in the distance from the car and I must admit I'd never have seen them!

Tres magnifique, non?

A fly over Lapland Bunting was lifer number nine and almost caused Steve to pass out in excitement! It was a shame we couldn't pick it out in the field where it landed, amongst thick stubble, but a great bird non the less and I now know what they sound like.

Next stop was Cantley Marshes and yet more Geese, this time we were hoping for Taiga Bean Geese and we did manage to see some (lifer number ten) along with hundreds more Pink-footed Geese, eighty or so White-fronted Geese, and some Canadas and Greylags.

Bun and Steve scan Cantley Marshes, there are Geese out there somewhere.

These are mainly Pinkies but there are a few Bean Geese here. You do need to look closely, they're in the air, the different tail colouring/pattern and more orangey legs are visible. I think there are definitely three.

Last stop of the day was the Stubb's Mill raptor roost, we got there nice and early but the viewing platform was already choc-a-bloc.

Different to Steve's photo coz he's in in and I'm not!

Stubb's Mill in evening light with FIFTEEN Marsh Harriers up, they're just what I could get in the photo, 68 came into roost along with 19 Cranes, two Hen Harriers and two Merlins. Three Barn Owls were also hunting over the reeds. Great stuff!

Dusk at Stubb's Mill


We started with a look in the fields around Holkham again, this time at a nice big flock of White Fronts, more were coming in as we watched and before we departed there was a maximum count of 169. Here are some of them:

I tried to get some video with a hand held camera from in the car, it's really shaky but I'm putting it on because Steve and Bun's commentary is so good. I think by now they were feeling a bit high on a surfeit of stupendous birds, I know I was! (another bleep was required, kindly put in by Martha, I wouldn't have a clue how to do this myself)

Then off to Holme Next The Sea where we met up with the other team of birders from Seaton to look for the Long-tailed Ducks and do a little seawatching.

Seaton Birders on Tour
Again like Steve's photo but without me and also from the other end of the row, so, totally different then!?

Steve feels the need to get up close to the action. That's Bun in the foreground, Steve's the teeny speck in the distance. We did actually join him and had superb views of FIVE stonking drake Long-tailed Ducks and one female, they were really close in too. No photos again, due to the swell it would have been a thankless task methinks.

After Holme we went back to Coveney and the elusive Rough-legged Buzzard. It wasn't showing when we arrived so we would just have to sit and wait.

The fields around Coveney looked like this most of the time, Buzzardless!

Bun glimpsed what he thought was the Rough-legged Buzzard fly low over a nearby field but it quickly dropped out of sight before I could get on it. A while later both he and Steve decided to wander off towards where it appeared to land and left me in a layby with the car and a small group of birders.

There they go making a big mistake.

After they'd been gone ten minutes or so one of the assembled birders spotted the Rough-legged Buzzard some distance away, fairly high and showing well. I managed to get on it quickly and enjoyed a reasonable view until I lost it when I phoned Steve. It was too late though the bird had landed again, distantly and out of sight. Rough-legged Buzzard was lifer number eleven!

Finally we returned to Pymoor to look for the Great White Egret which we'd dipped on day one, this time we didn't have to look for long. It was so obvious, a huge white blob on the opposite side of the flashes (lifer number twelve).

The water was heaving with wildfowl.The GWE is visible in this photo on the far bank as a Great White Blob.

Another quality close up

We stayed at Pymoor until after sunset. Swans were still flying to and fro and Backwater Birders reluctantly took a last look before heading home

Nicely lit Swans

One last scan