Wednesday, 12 October 2016

One last shot

OK - one day left to turn it into something special. Still a final chance to dig out a decent bird. I had a mental image of an Isabelline Shrike spiking a freshly killed Robin on a hawthorn - that never happened of course!
As it had been for most of the last few days, Happisburgh continued to feel 'rare'. Strong east wind, intermittent showers and dark skies!!!
I was watching a group of six Reed Buntings up at the coast watch. They were joined by a very smart Mealy Redpoll. Just then a small form flitted past and dived into the nearest nettle bed. Did that Goldcrest have a pale rump? A Goldcrest called from the same spot.....darn! But that was a pale rump, right? A quick scan with the bins and there was this striking gold supercilium peeping out at me. James Gilroy's Pallas's was still here! Almost like finding one for myself - almost!
I tried for photos but the bird was really mobile. I re-found it twice but it was very good at ditching me each time and if only this blade of grass wasn't there!

Pallas's Warbler, Happisburgh, Norfolk - 12th October 2016
I had spent so much time with the Pallas's that I was running things very tightly if I was to check anywhere else in Happisburgh. I walked the trees along the edge of the cricket club but could only find two Goldcrests. However, at the church yard a female type Black Redstart was present, posing nicely on the headstones.

Black Redstart, St. Mary's Church, Happisburgh, Norfolk
At 5.30pm, I called time and headed home.
So overall, it's not been a vintage autumn for me. A chance to go to Fair Isle went a begging because I couldn't get a flight off in time. So, instead I picked a spot in east Norfolk and birded that each day for five days. I saw stacks of Goldcrests, Thrushes, Robins and Finches. Managed to pick out a couple of Firecrests, two Yellow-browed Warblers, a Common Redstart, a Black Redstart and a few Brambling. I had a two Pallas's day, re-found one of those Pallas's and added Dusky Warbler to my British list. Not vintage - but I've had worse.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

A quick round-up

Saturday 8th October
Birded Happisburgh all afternoon. Lots of birds around in a cold easterly blow with a leaden sky. Tonnes of Goldcrests, Robins and Thrushes (incl. Redwing and Fieldfare). Felt 'rare' but best I could dig out were two Brambling within a small Chaffinch flock. Still felt like a proper autumn day on the east coast. Great day to be out.

Happisburgh, Norfolk

Sunday 9th October
Birded Happisburgh from 9am onwards. Better conditions (less cloudy, less windy and sunnier - so no good for migrants). Clear-out of Goldcrests - still some but less than yesterday. Heard a Brambling, saw a single Tree Sparrow (a good bird for Happisburgh apparently) and found two Firecrests in the willows opposite the paddocks.

Firecrest in Sycamores, Happisburgh, Norfolk

Bumped into Richard Moores and chatted with him for a while. Headed over to Eccles and found a Yellow-browed Warbler in the sycamores at the entrance to Eccles Beach Caravan Park. My first mainland UK Yellow-browed Warbler.

Yellow-browed in Sycamores

Heard later that James Gilroy found a Pallas's Warbler on the dungheap at the coast-watch.....ouch!! Great find but just hope I didn't miss it earlier in the day.

Monday 10th October
Happisburgh again. Met Richard Moores at 8.30am. We re-found the Pallas's in the nettle beds around the coast watch buildings. I left to fetch my heavy lens from the car and when I returned the bird had vamooshed!!
I headed over to Horsey Gap. Walked to the pipe-dump and found a female Common Redstart at the cattle pens. Nothing else of note.

Common Redstart, Horsey Gap, Norfolk

Stopped off at Great Yarmouth Cemetery en route home and twitched Tommy Corcoran's excellent Pallas's Warbler - my second in one day and a well deserved find for Tommy. Goldcrests galore, Firecrest and Yellow-browed in there also. Many Chiffchaffs too.

Pallas's Warbler, Great Yarmouth Cemetery, Norfolk

Tuesday 11th October
Happisburgh from 8.30am but very quiet save for a male Yellowhammer near the coastwatch and a Merlin buzzing through. Decided not too waste any more time searching in vain for migrants so did what I said I would avoid doing this week and chased other people's birds.
Had brief yet tickable views of the Dusky Warbler at Cromer lighthouse. A UK tick and only my third ever Dusky.
Quickly pushed on to Well's Wood for Olive-backed Pipit. Spent four hours in vain, flushed what was probably it but for a lifer I need better views. Arctic Warbler also present (didn't see this) but a second Yellow-browed there too.
Only one day left to dig something out. There's always a chance but this is not turning out to be a vintage birding year for me so hopes are not high!!

Tuesday, 20 September 2016


Options on Sunday morning were go north Norfolk and see someone else's bird (i.e. RB Fly at Salthouse) or strike out east and look for my own. I chose the latter.
I started at GY cemetery. I was trying my hardest to manage my expectations, no point in arriving full of optimisim only to lose heart an hour later when you realise that the place is devoid of birds. I told myself not to expect much but there's always a little voice telling you the big one is out there just waiting to be found.
Anyway, my low expectations were fully dampened within minutes of arrival. I met Justin Lansdell just as I arrived who told me it was bleak - no birds at all. Just a Garden Warbler, Grey Wagtail over and several Song Thrushes. Well bugger! I was here now so I had a poke around the north section knowing Justin would be right. All I could find was a female Blackcap and a Robin.
In the south section it was marginally better. I trying to see a calling Chiffchaff when a female Redstart made a very brief appearance. Not long after Tommy Corcoran found a Yellow-browed Warbler (although I didn't manage to see it myself) and soon after that we pinned down one if not two Firecrests.
Post lunch I drove to Happisburgh. Things got off to a good start (excuse the pun) with a female type Common Redstart in the horse paddocks near the pillboxes.

Redstart, Happisburgh, Norfolk

Further along the path I enjoyed a spectacle of two Hobbys being chased (in vain) by the local corvids. The Hobbys looked like they were having fun. At the cliff-edge I had two Wheatears and several Chiffers in the garden of the house opposite the paddocks.
I checked the church yard and around the cricket club but twas in vain. Before close of play I did a quick round of the area near the caravan park but could only dig out a Common Whitethroat there.
Its early yet but Happisburgh will deliver before the autumn is out.....I can feel it in me bones!
I should add though that bird of day was in fact seen long before I even arrived at Great Yarmouth - a Raven from the car near the Harford Park and Ride off the A47. Not so Normal for Norfolk!

Monday, 12 September 2016

Slim(ish) pickings!

This week has mostly been about large Shearwaters off Ireland's west coast and decent numbers of Pectoral and Buff-breasted Sandpipers on the Scillies and Western Isles. If I was still in Cork I'd be in heaven but here in Norfolk its slim pickings. I'll admit to being under-whelmed by wader watching at places like Cley, Titchwell and Hickling. Some smart birds but way too distant. How I now appreciate being able to crawl on my belly on the Ballycotton mud to snap a Semi-P Sandpiper or AGP from twenty feet!
Rain all day Saturday put paid to any birding. Clear skies Saturday night and a light southerly air flow didn't set my pulse racing either. But an early bank of fog gave rise to a little glimmer of hope as I drove to the east Norfolk coast early Sunday morning.
Two Chiffchaffs, a chacking Lesser Whitethroat and a juvenile Common Whitethroat at Happisburgh had me hoping but that was all I could I dig out there. I decided to walk the Nelson's Head track seeing what I could pick up en route and then finish with the 1st winter Red-backed Shrike at Winterton north dunes - assuming it had braved the rain and stayed put.
Nelson's Head track was actually quite good. At least there were birds. There and back I had three Wheatears, nine Whinchats, two Willow Warblers, a Blackcap and a probable Reed Warbler.

Wheatear, Nelson's Head track, Norfolk

Four of the nine Whinchats present along the track
Past the concrete blocks a small group of birders had gathered and the RB Shrike was still on show. A little too distant for photos and the sun was very strong by now. But still always a good bird to see. It had a series of look-out perches and was using them to good effect to pounce on unsuspecting beetles.

Red-backed Shrike, Winterton North Dunes, Norfolk
A Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart and several Hobbys were reportedly in the same area but I didn't see them. The fog was long gone and the day had really heated up. I watched the shrike for about half an hour before turning for home.
More hot weather this week and no sign of any east winds means we will have to do with the same meagre ration we have had so far. But as today showed, there is always something to see and maybe the east winds are waiting for my week off mid-October. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Cantley's Tringas and Corton's Jynx

On Saturday morning I took to the east coast for some bush-whacking. A light easterly air flow had me hoping but clear skies overnight and blue skies that morning dampened my enthuasiasm. I birded around Happisburgh, Cart Gap and Winterton but couldn't produce a single migrant. "Bird of the Day" was not even a bird.....a fresh-looking Painted Lady butterfly at Happisburgh was the best of the lot. At lunch-time I threw in the towel and opted to take Polina shopping in Norwich (that's how bad it was.....actually the shopping trip was quite enjoyable as it happens).
I skipped Sunday and instead went with Nick to Cantley Beet Factory to look for waders. That was not a bad option as it turned out and before lunch-time we had enjoyed smart views of some very handsome looking juvenile Tringas. I think the tally was five Green Sandpiper, two Wood Sandpiper, three Common Sands, three Greenshank and also about ten Ruff. Views were distant and heat haze would have been an issue for photography (didn't bother to bring my heavy lens). There was one delightful scope view of a Green and Wood Sandpiper alongside each other, if approaching without flushing them was possible then it would have made an excellent portrait. I had to settle for a very 'iffy' phonescoped effort instead.

Green and Wood Sandpiper, Cantley BF, Norfolk
After lunch we drove down to Corton in Suffolk to check out the Wryneck that had been frequenting the old sewage works compound. The bird was quite obliging but harsh light and a wire mesh fence put paid to decent shots.

Wryneck, Corton, Suffolk - 29th August 2016
So quality Wryneck shots continue to elude me.
A juvenile Whinchat kept it company but it kept its distance. At around 4pm we called it a day. Not a bank holiday to compare with previous years (see 2013, 2014) but a second Wryneck in a week, some tidy looking juvenile Waders and a Clouded Yellow at Cantley BF was quite acceptable.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Double Jynx

After a Saturday afternoon slogging around Great Yarmouth Cemetery and Winterton South Dunes, I came home and saw a report on RBA of a Wryneck in the northern section of the cemetery - drat and double drat! I had walked that area an all!
Anyway, it was still present on Sunday at midday so I made my way back over there hoping for some decent Wryneck shots. I figured if the location of the bird could be pinned down I would have several hours to get a good shot, all I needed was patience. However, I always under-estimate just how much cover there is there and this turned out to be a very tricky bird.
It buried itself within a Holm Oak and later a Holly tree. It was quite content in the latter, sitting against the truck just visible but with a twig or foliage always blocking a clear shot. So record shots only but I certainly enjoyed watching it feed with darts of its long lizard -like tongue.

Such a smashing bird. My second GY cemetery Wryneck (double jynx!) - not as showey as the first one from August 2014 though slightly less soggy!

Wryneck, GY Cemetery - 28th August 2014

Signs of autumn

A short little run of easterlies in the second half of the week and a few drift migrants started appearing. I managed to finish work a bit early on Friday evening and got to the east Norfolk coast as the rain began to fall. I had high hopes for a Wryneck or Greenish and wild dreams of a Booted or even Syke's Warbler (well we can at least dream). In the end a tally of four Pied Flys, two Whinchats and six Wheatears was not bad for an afternoon punt-about.
I started out at Happisburgh, parked up at the cricket club and walked towards the cliff edge. Around the pillboxes and dung piles I had two juvenile Wheatears and one adult male Wheatear. Also a single juvenile Whinchat.

A juvenile Wheatear keeps ahead of me on the path

Juvenile Whinchat
I was on my way back to the cricket club when something flew from the willows on the edge of the garden of the very last house before the cliff - Pied Flycatcher. Didn't give great views but it put a smile on my face at least.

Pied Flycatcher, Happisburgh, Norfolk
I did a quick check of the trees alongside the cricket club and a lap around the cemetery but it was quiet there. After that I parked up near the lighthouse and checked the general area there. I was just thinking that the overgrown meadow with all the Ragwort and Angelicas looked quite 'Whinchatty' - when a second juvenile Whinchat popped up. It was joined by another Wheatear and they even obliged for a photo together on nearby fence.

Having a bit of a 'chat' (groan!)
The rest of the area was quiet so I headed over towards Cart Gap and walked down Doggett Lane where I came across three Pied Flycatchers. I fared a little better this time with the camera. One bird at least played ball.

Happisburgh Lighthouse and Church from Cart Gap, Norfolk

The next day I birded Great Yarmouth cemetery and Winterton South Dunes in the late afternoon but there seemed to have been a clear-out and I didn't have a single migrant at all.