Welcome to my birdwatching blog. This blog will contain stories about my bird watching trips, interesting bird news and other tales that may or may not be bird related. I want to make it useful to the avid birder as well as those who may only have a passing interest in bird watching. I enjoy photographing bird life, common and rare through a spotting scope, not that they always sit still long enough for me. Being on the outskirts of North East London, my reports will not only cover my local patch of Redbridge/Waltham Forest, but also dip into deepest Essex, Suffolk, Kent and Norfolk.

Monday, 28 October 2013

North Norfolk. A wild and windswept adventure to a land with weak wireless.

Saturday 26 October 2013

So everything was planned down to the last bacon roll. My yearly (this may change) pilgrimage to the birding hotbed of North Norfolk had arrived. With my good friend Ed riding shotgun, nothing could go wrong, could it? On Friday evening I set up a text account with RBA (Rare bird alert) for a free trial. Brilliant, I get 5 free texts for Friday night only. Totally useless and so they’ve now lost me. At least I have a Birdguides App staring at my on my phone, so we wouldn’t miss a thing so long as the 3G works up there...............

With the car loaded with beer, bacon and binoculars, we dashed up the A11 to Thetford. Just north of Thetford lies Lynford Hall, famous for it’s Arboretum.  And here was where a Two-barred Crossbill had been seen rubbing wings with a flock of 20 or so Common Crossbills. We found the spot and a few other birders and began staring up at the top of a few larch trees. The first bird we found was a Hawfinch. wasn’t expecting this as they tend to appear in December but who cares? We checked our phones for updates but no internet service.

Ed looking for Crossbills (use the scope dude)
It wasn’t long before a small flock of Common Crossbills came calling and flying in. The birds were fairly mobile and it was difficult to keep tabs on them all. No one found the Two-barred Crossbill in the couple of hours we were there so we heading north to Holme. Still no internet service.

Female Common Crossbill

Male Common Crossbill
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting a great deal bird-wise on this trip. The wind direction was all wrong and there was a threat of rain, on and off at any time. Still, we had beer and that tends to sort things for the better anyway. Still no internet service.

Once I had nursed the car over an excessive number of speed humps along the road to the Holme-next-the-sea’s excellent nature reserve and bird observatory, the strength of the wind and a fine spray of wet weather had set in. Areas of the North Norfolk coast are lined with pine belts and Holme is no exception. In the pines, there were Coal Tits, Goldcrests and Chaffinches. We carried on through the pines to check for birds on the sea and used the trees as a natural shelter from the wind. In fact, the wind had blown the rain front away and things were quite pleasant for a late October morning. Visibility was reasonable and we could see a good number of Northern Gannets feeding offshore.

Streams of Common Scoters flew low over the sea in both directions. There were also a few Velvet Scoter to perk things up a bit. On the sea we found a couple of Eider and a pair of Great Northern Divers sat before taking flight west. We then had a Red-necked Grebe in front of us found by a birder from Derbyshire who joined us sea watching and seemed more intent on talking about his mother-in-law. Fascinating stuff. Still no internet service.
Ed and the Eiders. (Good name for a rock band)
Just before we left Holme, seven Whooper Swans came in off the sea and a Guillemot flew west. Ed missed this because a) it was flying very fast and b) we only have one telescope between us and a dramatic difference in eyesight which means a lot of focusing!

Oh look at the time. Yes, it was pub time. We left Holme and headed to the Jolly Sailors at Brancaster,just beyond Titchwell which would be our afternoon destination.

Ed with a pint of Oystercatcher. Just needs a pirate hat now.
The pub was okay but full of kids. It was like a scene from Peter Pan with the 'odd' pirate wandering around with loads of kids intent on knocking your pint over. Okay, there’s no pint spilling in Peter Pan but you get the picture. Ed had one bar on his phone!!!!!!

So onwards or in our case, backwards to Titchwell. Titchwell is a small village but is home to one of the key RSPB reserves in East England. We scanned the meadow areas first and found a female Merlin and a female Marsh Harrier both hunting. On the meadows themselves small flocks of Brent Geese grazed and a few Curlew, a single Little Egret and Common Redshank were seen.

Ed scans the wet meadow area for geese and stuff.

Pink-footed Geese
We popped into the Island Hide but there was only Teal and Shoveler to see but they were close and we both took a few pics because we could. No internet service.

Drake Teal
Teal Duck
The wind was getting stronger as we headed to the beach bypassing the Parrinder hide which we felt would make a good refuge a bit later so beach first. The problem is the wind direction only serves to push birds further out rather than bring them in so the sea was rather disappointing as far as a sea can be. So we took pictures of sand and sky instead.

Peach of a beach.
Better head for the hides!
We scurried back along the boardwalk and to the Parrinder Hide. Since i was last here, the hide has been posted up and is quite impressive as too are the birds from it. There were 3 Whooper Swans, hundreds of Golden Plovers and masses of ducks with none more impresive than the Pintails even though they preferred to sleep with a storm brewing.

Golden Plovers 
Drake Pintail
As we left the Parrinder hide, a few people were watching a small island close to the footpath from the hide. The high-sided banks made it awkward to view but after a few moments we saw a Jack Snipe step out from behind some suaeda for a few seconds and then disappear again. Something sent a lot of the neighbouring ducks up and we cursed our luck that most probably, the Jack Snipe had gone too. However, it reappeared and although it was never going to be good shot, I took a random shot of the vegetation and crossed my fingers.

Jack Snipe coming out just as the sun did.

Day one had been great. and with the sun disappearing, we departed for our swanky apartment to plan our evening pub sortie and stick a few beers in the fridge. On the journey to Langham, we saw a group of birders by the side of the road. In the adjacent field we could see the focus of their attention. A ghostly Barn Owl was quartering the field – a perfect end to the day.

So the pub think didn’t exactly go to plan. Who would have figured that pubs would be fully booked at the end of October? Well not me. I had found a good yet remote pub with recommendations for beer and food aplenty that required infra-red vision goggles to find but once we stumbled upon it, we found it full of bloody people! I mean, a pub, full of people. Why? It’s not fair. We retraced our steps to the car and headed for Stiffkey, requiring a stiff drink. The bored local teenagers or OAPs (don’t know which) had attempted to scratch out the K of Stiffkey from the road sign. Quite amusing but not when it was seen with the word mussels after it. We avoided the Mussels.

Even the Lion’s pose was a little worrying.
So, of course, a few more pictures of me and Ed eating and drinking pub fayre.
This is what happens to you when you’ve been staring through binoculars all day.
Note how much slower Ed drinks his pint of Woodfordes Wherry.
We had now been in more bars than we had had on our phones. I was building up to this as you probably expected.

Sunday 27th October 2013

Was awakened by the strong wind and rain lashing against the bedroom window. Not good. With a head a bit fuzzy from a night of Merlot, Bombay Mix and a 4-1 Liverpool win, I pushed myself into the shower (not the outdoor one obviously). It didn’t work. Actually, does anything work in North Norfolk? No shower, no phone signal and no street lighting near pubs. To be accurate, the shower did work and the options were either scalding hot or cryogenically cold. Some choice. I opted for a bath. No photos. Sorry.

Now, it looks like Ed made breakfast but really it was me with help from Ed. He seems surprised that I said I cooked??? Well I do. He clearly didn’t trust me and set about assuming control in the kitchen. I checked my phone....no signal.

Ed, I can do that....
British weather is quite amazing. One minute it was chucking it down and sideways and the next it was brilliant blue skies but with the wind. Our plan was to go to Holkham. Our Derbyshire friend had erred against that but I wanted Ed to see a beach even more impressive than that at Titchwell.

Our gaff in Langham. Most comfortable once you get a proper access code.
I don’t like pay & display machines at the best of times and the ones at Holkham and to be precise, the devil of a contraption in Lady Anne’s Drive was close to Machiavellian. £4.50 for 4 hours was acceptable in my book for such a beautiful location but the damn machine needed to be woken up with a constant feed of coins which cascaded through said machinery before being spewed out at the bottom. I persevered. Eventually, my coined started to be accepted. I was so impressed when the second of my £2 coins stayed in that I pressed the green ticket button. I had of course forgotten the fee for 4 hours was £4.50. We had 2 hours for £4. Brilliant. I know this is my fault and not the councils but honestly, if it had taken the money in the first place I would have.....fuck it this is taking too long to explain.

Onwards to the beach and what a beach. This is a £2 an hour beach to me so I was going to enjoy it.
Worth every penny.
So to the birds. well, we were never going to match the 78 species we had on the Saturday so this was going to be a top-up kind of day but we topped it it up with premium stuff.

Ed saw one first. There was a large raptor hugging the dunes and battling the forceful winds. The tail told the tale. It was a Red Kite. Now I thought this was very unusual but it would seem there are breeding kite in Norfolk and there has been a reintroduction programme. We found two birds being mobbed by gulls between the dunes and the pine belt.
Red Kite...some distance away I might add.

We trudged up the sand dunes to get a better look. As we watched the kites, I carried on along the dunes and flushed six Snow Buntings that had been sheltering from the winds. They all dropped down to the base of the dune and we slid down to get closer.

the sand was snaking over the surface of the beach and making life difficult through the lens of the scope. I managed some reasonable images but not great considering the closeness of the birds.

Today there was nothing on the sea...not even an Albatross which was a few miles away at this stage anyway. We went back over the dunes to relocate the kites but they had vanished. A few Skylarks and Meadow Pipits, each a potential Shore Lark teased us as we walked back to the pine belt. The pine belt was empty with no signed of any bird life. Thank god I only had 2 hours in the car park. More Pink-footed Geese in the fields beside the Drive and a single Kestrel made the bird list complete.

Because of the weather which was starting to change for the worse, we decided to revisit Titchwell. It was never going to match the previous day but with our stomachs shouting louder than our desire for a longer list, we headed to Titchwell for a couple of hours and then to the pub. Oh, one of us had 2 bars on our phone but I can’t remember who now...sorry.

Farewell Titchwell, it’s been a breeze.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

It’s official – I’m an idiot.

This week I have been left questioning my own commitment to getting out and getting the bird. Only a week or so ago, I was up a ladder working on house repairs, hoping to finish in time to do some good birdwatching. I stuck to the task of renovating the home and even managed a Mistle Thrush, a flyby of three Ring-necked Parakeets and a female sparrow hawk, all from the dizzy heights of my ladder. So I had collected enough Brownie Points to go somewhere exotic like Dungeness or Dunwich on the Sunday. Excellent prospect. However, when Sunday came, it was hammering with rain. There was a party of four Parrot Crossbills close to where I worked showing well but I ask you, in the rain??? No thanks. I did keep looking to the sky for improvement but when it came, it was too late to get there for daylight conditions.

Always tomorrow I thought.

So an early sortie to Gunners Park on Monday morning with clearing skies in the east making me think of biblical references and hoping for that beam of light to hit a small pine tree had me gripped. Everything would have been okay and this blog would have had some 'nice' pictures of these head-heavy beauties but I went looking in the wrong place. Doh! I stood with another birder looking at a few pine trees with nothing much in them. Certainly no Parrot Crossbills. There was a Ring Ouzel to make things sufferable and to be honest I wasn’t pissed off. I had made a decision yesterday and I had to accept it.

Back at work I quickly looked at the local website only to read the four Parrot Crossbills were still there. Well a lunchtime mercy dash back to the park was organised and I got there 30 minutes after the birds were last seen. I even realised I was yards from where the birds were seen in the morning and I couldn’t believe my ineptitude and laziness. I could have checked a bit harder in the morning but couldn’t be bothered. i’m bothered now I can tell you.

Yeah, you just missed 'em.
I have this vision of the four birds flying low over my car going in the opposite direction as I arrived at the car park. Oh well, maybe the Two-barred Crossbills in Norfolk in a week or so will be more sympathetic. Yeah right.