Saturday, 23 May 2009

Birding in North Norfolk

A gloriously warm sunny day with little to no wind, although it did cloud over for a while at Titchwell the weather could not have been better.

We left Pitsea at 06.30 arriving at our first site in north Norfolk around 09.30, looking out across a field of rape we were treated to 3 Marsh Harriers and a couple of what were probably Buzzards soaring distantly on a thermal. After thirty minutes one of the birds we were hoping to see appeared along the top of the field, following the hedgerow, a male Montagu's Harrier showed extremely well as it followed the hedgerow down the opposite side of the field, a stunning start to the day!

On to RSPB Titchwell Marsh which as always didn't disappoint, warblers were in full song, Blackcap, Willow, Chiffchaff, Sedge, Reed and Cetti's. Three Marsh Harriers showed well over the reedbeds and a pair of Cuckoos gave us a flypast. A single Turtle Dove showed well in a dead tree and Bearded Tits 'pinged' away in the reedbed occasionally giving brief flight views. On the freshmarsh a few pairs of Avocets now had chicks while many more were still sitting. Around fifty Black-tailed Godwits were still present some of which were now in their breeding plumage as were five Grey Plover.

Five Spoonbills flying over heading east were an unexpected bonus for some, unfortunately I missed them! On the beach summer-plumaged Sanderlings were seen alongside Turnstones and more Grey Plovers while on the sea two drake Eiders were a nice find as were 15 Common Scoter flying past.

We finished the day at Cley Marsh, A lapwing with three very young chicks showed extremely well. Marsh Harriers were constantly mobbed by Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits as they quartered the marsh. Dunlin, Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers were seen well. From the beach and north hide, Common, Little and Sandwich Terns along with another Spoonbill were seen.

We finished the day at 06.30 pm with another Marsh Harrier quartering the field beside the Visitor Centre car park. A great day enjoyed by all.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Bird Trip To Minsmere

Arriving at RSPB Minsmere Nature Reserve the six of us headed off towards the northern footpath, stopping first to look at the sand martin bank, a few sand martins were overhead but none entered any of the nesting holes while we watched. As we approached the first bushes at the start of the trail a nightingale could be heard singing to our left and then another on therighthand side of the path. Both were in quite dense bushes, but moving past and looking back one showed well in the open and everyone had great views through the telescope. As we passed through the reedbeds, both sedge and reed warbler singing along with the loud bursting song of a cetti's warbler. We soon picked up the 'pinging' calls of bearded tits, the north trail is on a higher elevation to the reeds, so viewing was excellent looking down in to the large reedbeds on either side of the trail. A pair of bearded tits showed amazingly well, regularly calling as they crossed the path often between the gathered on-lookers! It appeared that they probably had a nest with young on one side, but were gathering food from the other. The views were down to just a few yards in the edge of the reeds in clear view and often dropping on the ground beside the track gathering food....wonderful!

A second-summer Mediterranean gull was first picked on call as it circled over our heads with the black-headed gulls. Four or five pairs are now breeding at Minsmere along with 1100 pairs of black-headed gulls. Later we found two Mediterranean gulls on the scrape sitting on their nests. As we approached the beach a male stonechat showed well sat on top of a small bush.

On the sea common and little terns were constantly flying backwards and forwards over the shingle beach to the scrape. An adult kittiwake flew past close to the shoreline heading north. From east hide excellent close views of a pair of avocets and a summer plumaged turnstone on a small island close to the hide. Around 40 black-tailedgodwits were on the scrape, nearly all still in their winter plumage, these seemed really plain compared to the summer birds still around in South Essex! A good fifty or so dunlin were present, looking very dapper with their black bellies. Among the hundreds of black-headed gulls were good numbers of common terns, many of which were pair-bonding as they nosily offered their partners small fish titbit's.

On to the sluice and a female wheatear showed very well, the swallows were a photographers delight perching on the sluice fences and footpath signs and allowing a close approach. Beyond the sluice a single greenshank. On the footpath between south and west hide, was this large caterpillar, which I later identified as the drinker moth. This very dark, large hairy caterpillar can be seen from April to June and August to September. Cuckoos can eat them but probably no other birds. The caterpillars feed on coarse grass and reed, hibernating from October to April when they resume feeding. Their long-recognised habit of drinking drops of dew from plants gives us the common English name. The caterpillars pupate in June. This large moth is common and widespread in Great Britain, and can be found in gardens where there are stands of coarse and lightly managed grasses.

From west hide the little terns were sitting on the islands alongside common terns offering a great opportunity to compare size and plumage differences. Probably the scarcest bird of the day was picked up in flight as it headed south over the scrape, black-tips to some of the primaries identified it as an immature spoonbill, an impressive sight enjoyed by all

Lunch was taken back at the visitor centre, where we also found a small copper butterfly before heading off to the woods. Coal tit was heard but remained elusive, but not quite so elusive were great spotted woodpecker and treecreeper, although everyone saw marsh tit, well almost everyone, I couldn't get on it! As we approached island mere hide a bittern could be heard 'booming' and continued to boom while we were in the hide. I never realised just how difficult it was to pin down where the sound was coming from, in fact it was hard to work out which direction it was coming from! Of course the marsh harriers performed beautifully, just as we knew they would, after all this is Minsmere!

Hobby was seen three times but each time we were on the woodland trails and only had views through gaps in the canopy. We moved on to Westleton and Minsmere Heaths which had three dartford warblers singing, none of which showed really well giving only brief perched or flight views. Whereas a pair of stonechats showed very well as did a yellowhammer and flypast green woodpecker. On Westleton two nightingales had a singing competition, one of which showed very well in the open. The last bird but not least bird of the day was a woodlark seen as we were at the cars preparing to leave, it showed fairly well but all too briefly in a gnarled stump of a tree. We finished the day having seen 78 different species and having had a very pleasant relaxed and friendly day

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Vange Marsh

A Peregrine flew low over the marsh heading north at 2 pm and also heading north at 3.15 pm was a Red Kite, the first I have seen in South Essex.

Early on the marsh today were 11 Greenshank, 1 Spotted Redshank in full summer plumage, 2 Redshank, 2 Oystercatcher and 3 summer plumage Dunlin.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

International Dawn Chorus Day

Sixteen people gathered at the RSPB Visitor Centre in Wat Tyler Country Park at 5 am. With the dawn chorus just getting in to full swing a cuckoo was one of the first birds heard and two more were heard during the two hour walk, one of which showed well in flight. Blue and great tits along with robin were heard around the bird feeding area. A whitethroat, it's scratchy song was soon heard as we crossed the road to Holly Cottage, whitethroats were evident throughout the walk with one performing exceptionally well on the perimeter trail often song flighting above our heads. Reed warblers were singing from the reedbeds, even the smallest areas of reed held at least one. A cetti's warbler burst in to song but remained elusive as is often the case with this species. As we continued blackbirds and wrens were in full voice, and then we picked up the gentle 'purring' of a turtle dove, the first recorded in the park this year, the bird was sat on a pylon and every one enjoyed views through a telescope. On to the marina and a pair of oystercatchers made a noisy fly-past while two little egrets fed in the creek. Our first nightingale could be heard singing across the creek on the western end of the former county tip. Further along the trail a second nightingale sang in dense vegetation beside the track, and frustratingly stayed hidden, we stayed and listened to his full repertoire for a while and this was a highlight and new experience for many. Song thrush and blackcap were enjoyed as the walk came to an end, it really is worth getting up early at this time of the year, with no background noise to compete with the dawn chorus is a real experience.