Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Birthday weekend birding

I follow the philosophy of not working on my birthday. So, I had a couple of days off and inevitably engaged in a spot of birding. On Thursday (28.10.04), I had a sunny morning to Prior's Fen, where I was greeted by a Barn Owl in the first light of day. The first-winter drake Scaup from the previous weekend was still hanging out (growing new grey back feathers by the day).

A group of five Bewick's Swans came onto the Scaup pit to add atmosphere.

Bewick's Swans have individually-variable bills showing a great range. This particular individual had a very small amount of yellow, giving it an almost Whistling Swan appearance.

Perhaps the highlight of the morning was a pair of frisky Brown Hares, indulging in a bit of 'boxing' and what-have-you, which didn't notice me until they were only about 15 feet away.
Another hare trotted across the fields on the south side of the 'Middle Pit' which were packed with several hundred Golden Plovers as well as the hundreds of Lapwings and assorted gulls.

In the afternoon, I went to check out the back of King's Dyke nature reserve, to listen for Bearded Tits in the reedbed. I heard none, but flushed a single Jack Snipe, and enjoyed the hundreds of Redwings in to gorge on the hawthorn haws.
I moved to Eldernell to watch for raptors. There were at least six Short-eared Owls (distantly), the odd Marsh Harrier, loads of Kestrels and one or two Peregrines going about. A Merlin also whizzed by late-on, plus a Grey Wagtail.

On Friday (29.10.04), my friend Tom Bailey took me down to Woodwalton Fen and Eldernell (and back to WWF for my lost scope eyepiece...) for a tad more birding. At Eldernell we awatched a strange 'Peregrine' bathing – with a cream crown and odd-coloured plumage. There were a few Short-eared Owls around again and the odd Buzzard and Marsh Harrier. The bird-feeders were alive with Tree Sparrows - at least ten present.
So to Saturday, where the Bog and I met Mark Ward at his family's static caravan at Snettisham, Norfolk. Vis-mig was already in good progress, with Bramblings over before we left the 'van-park.
Our first port of call was Holkham where we dodged the great flocks of Pink-footed Geese to hit the trees to look for warblers.

We found the odd Long-tailed Tit flock (a good start for rare Phylloscs) but they were only associating with the billions of Goldcrests and the odd Chiffchaff, plus Coal, Blue and Great Tits (though I did find a Firecrest on the way back). At least the Long-tails gave me a chance to try my new second-hand Coolpix 880 for a spot of digiscoping.

The dunes at the end of west of the pines produced a few more migrants, with Brambling dropping in and a few Rock Pipits going over. The best idea, though, was to watch the calm sea. We picked up a few auks and Red-throated Divers - and a Black-throated flew in and three Velvet Scoters went by. A few Bonxies past as did an Arctic/Pom Skua which wasted little time taking a thrush or lark from low over the waves and eating it, with wings out (like a Sparrowhawk mantling its prey) on the water. Inshore, we found a couple of Black-necked Grebes, scarce in these parts.
And so to twitch the Lesser Yellowlegs at Stiffkey.

At the site, we watched a couple of Ring Ouzels...

...And a casual glance at the pool behind us on the bank brought at least seven scattered Scaup (it never fails to amaze me how unobservant 'birders' are in Norfolk, especially when twitchin a specific bird).
The Bog started digiscoping a Redshank on a post. So I copied her. Ha.

On Sunday (31.10.04), my one bit of birdwatching was dash to Prior's once more to twitch a couple of Little Stints for the old annual PBC list. Three Whoopers were sharing the pit with the Scaup and the stints. All in all a fine long weekend of wildlife-watching.

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