Thursday, 26 November 2009

Norfolk, November 2009 - Day 3

Expectation is the enemy. If you know what you're expecting to see, you're already halfway toward a duff ID. From what I hear, most birders learn this lesson constantly throughout their careers, and that's why I don't feel quite so bad as I might.

But this story has a happy ending.

It all started on Monday morning. This was leaving Norfolk day, so we walked into Sheringham town centre to get food for the trip home. Naturally enough I didn't take my camera because food shopping rarely presents good photo opportunities, and this inevitably meant that when we walked along the 20 yards of coastline available to us on the way in it was covered in Turnstones. Because I have a remarkably tolerant girlfriend (who incidentally reads this blog) I ran back to the B&B for my camera. She held fort on the sea wall and, upon my return, reported with some small amount of smugness that while I'd been gone a couple of the birds had decided to chase eachother round the path and ended up about 2 feet from her. Mildly irritating, but since I'd spent the entire run back picturing silhouetted Turnstones disappearing over the horizon I couldn't find it in me to be too disppointed.

So ensued a bit of a mammoth Turnstone photography session - they're just so photogenic and so well behaved. One of my favorite coastal birds for all that they're common as dirt:

Broke my normal blog-rule about not doing any post-production (other than cropping) on this one. Just tweaking the levels a bit makes it look so much sharper.

The trouble with Turnstones though is that they do like to poke around in drain outlets and other such accumulations of crap and litter, and it does rather spoil the ambiance when the bird is sitting next to a dead coke bottle. Fortunately, sharp eyed girlfriend came to the rescue. "Oh look, there's one on the rocks over there, do you want to try and get some pictures of that?"

FIRST CLUE IGNORED. It was sitting all on its own on a bloody great rock and not poking about in sewage with the others as Turnstones are wont to do.

"Oh cool" I replied, "Yeah definitely". And it was very well behaved and I was very pleased, and got some very nice pictures including a rather cool flight shot, and which I didn't really look at very closely. SECOND CLUE IGNORED. We finished up the food shopping and drove home, picking up a Buzzard over the car on the way.

Once back, I called a friend and expressed a desire for beer - a desire with the full weight of 7 hours in the car behind it - so we went to the pub and dissected our respective weekend's birding. On the way back he stopped by the house and I gave him the camera to peruse.

"Are you sure that's a Turnstone?" he said. Well I was until I was asked. "It looks more like a Purple Sandpiper" he said. "Look, the bill's clearly longer than a Turnstone's and there's white edging round all those feathers on its back". So down came the bird books, and a Purple Sandpiper it was. Lesson Learned - look at the damn bird in future. Prime example of why going out with a camera should never be confused with going out birdwatching.

So I feel a bit stupid because the bill alone was a huge giveaway, but I doubt it'll be the worst ID I ever make. And the photos are good. And I had fun with the Turnstones. And I had beer in a pub. A successful day all round.

It wouldn't be right though if I finished the trip report without mentioning the B&B where we stayed. It was a little place in Sheringham called the Alverstone, and it was extremely nice. Perhaps not one for the more dedicated birdwatchers out to catch all the rarities they can - breakfast was served at 09:00 each morning which is well after first light even at this time of year - but comfy and welcoming. Full cooked breakfast on request, though I stuck with scrambled eggs on toast after the first morning, and only just off the A149 so easy access all the way up and down the coast. Took about 15 minutes to get to Cley, and half an hour to Blakeney. If you're looking for a holiday, I recommend.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Norfolk, November 2009 - Day 2 of 3

This was the day when the missus and I used up our allocated share of 'weather-luck' for the rest of the year. The forecast was, frankly, horrible, and a quick chat with the lady in the Beans Boats ticket office (i.e. cottage front room) revealed that they'd actually stopped taking bookings and advised people not to turn up as they didn't think they'd be able to run the trip - it was all touch and go until Sunday morning. As it happened, the day was bright and sunny until about 2 minutes after we stepped off the boat. Now THAT's timing.

"Every year the Seals travelled from miles around to Blakeney Point and gathered on the beaches to witness the human spectacle as, for some inexplicable reason, the humans all packed themselves tightly onto floating trees and sailed round in little circles."

The Seal trip was considerably shorter this time round - there was no stopover on the point itself and the seals were gathered on a beach much closer to Morston than they were when we were here in May time. However, they did have one thing going for them that they didn't have in the spring. SEAL PUPS. I think I can let the pictures speak for themselves...

Not a pup





We saw some birds as well, but who cares, right? Redshank and Brent Geese can't compare with this.

And besides, the most exciting bird of the trip was yet to come...

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Norfolk, November 2009 - Day 1 of 3

This trip report will be delivered in 3 parts. The first (this one) and the third will contain all the things that will likely be of interest to the birdwatching community who are the mainstay of this blog. The second will contain little except sickeningly cute photos of sickeningly cute Seal pups.

The birdwatching portion of this trip is a tale of both mirth and woe, full of false IDs and birding ineptitude. This is because the Missus and I were going it alone on this visit and lacked the knowledgable second opinions of our previous trip last May.

Note: This was not a 'birdwatching holiday' as such, just a relaxing weekend away where we incidentally did some birdwatching. This trip was nowhere near as big or as manic as the May one.

We started the Saturday at Cley, where I just about managed to hand over the £4 entry fee without wincing. Checked the board quickly - nothing in the book for the day thus far - and ventured onto the reserve. I've lost my map, but we headed out to what I believe are the middle hides and spent some time looking out across the scrape. If you like Wigeon, Teal and Shelduck this is the place to be.

They covered the lake and surroundings, and are just generally very photogenic.

However, man cannot live on wildfowl alone, and before long we had another visitor turn up.

And wonder of wonders, it actually sat down in front of us long enough for a decent scoping and some poor quality video.

Also out on the marshes were a small selection of Waders - 8 or 9 Bar-Tailed Godwits and a few Redshank dotted about - one which we're fairly certain was a Spotted Redshank. The boardwalk on the way back produced the first of the woeful IDs. We went for Whinchat, based on the pictures in the poor quality excuses-for-field-guides that are my main source of information (I want my Collins goddammit). After consultation with Parus (i.e. him saying 'no it's not'), I've revised my opinion and now consider it to be very much a Stonechat. A quick search on Google images confirms this -the supercilium is nowhere near as prominent as you see in the Whinchat pictures scattered about. I'll know for next time. Still, we showed the picture to the lady in the visitor's centre and told her it was a Whinchat and she didn't hesitate to write it on the board as one. That'll annoy the locals. See what you think anyway:

Regular Redshank

Not a Whinchat

We ate some soup in the visitor's centre and I picked up a Bird Song CD, which I've been meaning to do for ages. In the meantime someone had written "60 Snow Bunting (Shore)" in the visitor's book, so we made a dash to the front to see what we could see. No Snow Buntings, but a Flock of about 1500 Golden Plover made the effort worthwhile, and scoping back over the marshes bagged us about 400 Lapwing and a Pintail on the scrapes.

Looking the other way, out onto the sea, was about as fruitless as seawatching gets. We saw a single Greater Black Backed gull, a couple of Cormorants and a Common Seal. No Gannets, no Fulmar, nada. We did chase a pipit type thing into some long grass, but I'm not hot enough on those particular kind of LBJs to ID them from the brief glimpses we got. To be honest, long glimpses would give me almost as much trouble. It will be forever unknown.

In the afternoon we headed over to Holkham bay to try and find some of those Shore Larks, and possibly a Snow Bunting or two. We were disappointed on both counts, though some friendly Seawatchers put us onto 4 Gannet doing their plummeting thing, along with a flock of c60 Common Scoter fishing in the same area. Walking down the beach to the area where the Shore Larks were reported to be, we happened across a few LBJs among the sea of tiny Heather stalks which, with the help of the esteemed Parus, have been narrowed down to Twite. I've checked the call since our conversation and it matches what we heard on the day. Here's an appalling picture. Notice how I got lost among the sea of brown and focused on a piece of string, instead of the actual bird in the bottom left.

And so ended day with a couple of pints and some food in the Robin Hood, Sheringham (highly recommended, lovely pub and Old Speckled Hen as a regular ale).

That's enough for now I think - tune in tomorrow (maybe) for part 2 on Blakeney point, in which there may be some seals.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Abberton on Sunday

I've had two trips to Abberton now, and both of them have been brilliant.

Spoonbill doing Spoonbilling

I got ticks, I saw good birds that weren't ticks, and I got chauffered to a very nice pub in Maldon called the Blue Boar. Good birds, good food/drink and good company, what more can you ask from a day out?

Of course, tick birds for me are as scum underfoot to others - one of the few advantages of being new to the hobby are that life ticks are easy to come by, and every trip holds genuine hope. Take the above; first Spoonbill ever. Awesome. Other ticks for this trip included Goosander, Goldeneye and Spotted Redshank.

This was alongside the 120ish Golden Plover, 300ish Black Tailed Godwit, c40 Teal, 2 Pintail, 60ish Gadwall and single Ruff. Lots of other, more ordinary, stuff seen, but we did miss the Bewicks Swans and Smew seen the previous day. Smew is a winter target of mine, so I'll be following that particular story closely.

On the way back we stopped in Heybridge basin, which was good for 3 things: Tea, Golden Plovers and House Sparrow photos. Didn't get a picture of the Tea, but you're in luck with the rest.


The Plover were particularly impressive. There must have bee a flock of at least 3-4000 - photos just don't do it justice. Really got to see the golden colour in the twilight though, which was very very cool. A genuinely good day out even without the birdwatching, and one I'll be looking to repeat when I can.

Off to Norfolk with the missus this weekend, so there will be some birdwatching done but it won't be a crazy runaround like last May, just a relaxing long weekend during which I might happen across a reserve or two. I'll save the pressure birding for next year.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Corvid on the feeders?

Those of you hanging around London right now will know that it's pissing down here - high wind, torrential rain etc. Not conducive to birdwatching. But I've got my curtain open on the offchance as my room looks down onto the feeders, and if there's one thing that might drag birds out into the horrible weather it's food.

That's why I saw the Magpie perched on my fence flying over to a fat cake, which hangs in a cage, desperately hovering in midair while it tried to tear off a beakful, and then flying back to the fence to sit and stare at the feeder before trying again. Rinse and repeat 4 or 5 times before it finally gave up and flew away. With winds like this I am amazed that it even got close.

First time I've seen a Corvid trying for any of the feeders which are far too small for them to perch and feed. I can only assume it was getting desperate.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Fame. Ish.

Anyone here buy Bird Watching magazine? Have a look on page 13 will you...

Monday, 9 November 2009


Busy busy, got about 15 minutes to write this before I spend another 48 hours away from the computer.

First off, Coal Tit in girlfriend's dad's garden on Saturday - awesome. Not the best view, but easily the best I've had so far. Didn't get to see the white patch on the back of the neck, which I'd like to get a decent look at in case the suspected Coal Tit ever comes back to my garden, but easily enough to identify it. Also had a second opinion in the form of the missus who was out there with me, and she has seen them before. Only about the second I've ever seen and I also got to catch an earful of song, so very happy with that.

Secondly, I took a LONG walk this lunchtime, went a considerable way down Cable Street and ended up in Shadwell area. There's a small allotment here, the front of which is full of trees, bushes, dead leaves and bird boxes. And Grey Squirrels. Saw at least 3 of those, along with 3 Blackbirds and a Blue Tit feeding off of berries in a tree overhanging the pavement. The best bit though was hearing a familiar high pitched nattering sound, and catching sight of a Goldfinch through the branches. Inner London tick right there - think I'll start keeping a generalised patchlist for the Tower Hamlets area. I've seen a couple of birds out and about now that arn;t close enough to count as Tower ticks, and it's definitely worth keeping a record.

Still struggling with phone video. I have purchased a USB cable and transferred the stuff across, but finding something that will let me play/edit it is another matter. It will be sorted, but have had a distinct lack of time on the computer this weekend.

Last but not least, I forked out some money for some bird listing software, because updating my HTML lists was too time consuming and I'd essentially stopped doing it. I also know now, after working with them for the last year and a bit, that relational databases are where it's at. Wasn't at all impressed at first, and I still think Jeff's Birding Database seems on a par in terms of functionality, but JBD doesn't let me add new locations properly. Having played with Tick List Pro I'm getting used to it now. It's not great, but so far it's better than the alternatives. Will post a better review when I've managed to get a decent number of records into it. Still time consuming to add them, but at least I'm just updating in one place, and I can include some extra detail.