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Tuesday 31 January 2017

Brief visit to Strumpshaw

Following yet another visit to the Dr's for more tests, I fancied a short walk around the Fen: I knew the two Brians would be there and anticipated some badinage with these two great characters.

I bumped into Brian T on the sandy path, and we walked to Fen Hide together: Brian S and 'blonde Liz' were already settled in and had seen Kingfisher and Bittern. I saw nothing, apart from a few Marsh Harriers, so we made the muddy walk to Tower Hide. On the way we heard - and then saw - a pair of Bullfinches. Only the female allowed a few record shots, but still: a year tick!

Not much else to report apart from a striking Greylag / Canada hybrid: I think I've seen it before at Buckenham.

While I was typing this something crashed into the office window: looking out, I found myself in eye-to-eye contact with a dapper little male Sparrowhawk. Sad to report it was clutching 'our' Pied Wagtail 😢. Needless to say, as I slowly moved my hand towards a camera, it tazzed off across the garden, while a Rook looked on with apparent interest!

Monday 30 January 2017

Buckenham and Halvergate: raptors and geese!

A brief drive around the Yare Valley sites was surprisingly productive: first stop was Halvergate where the highlights were two Bewick Swans and a distant Merlin.

A stop-by-stop move to Buckenham gave views of several flocks of Pinkfeet and a well-marked Buzzard, while Buckenham itself turned up twenty plus White-fronted Geese, thousands of Pinkfeet, a Peregrine, a Grey Wagtail and a Stonechat. I bumped into an old friend - Ian Forster, a producer at Radio Norfolk, with whom I worked on 'Stargazing Live' Terrific guy, and great to catch up on bird and BBC gossip!

I also met a birder from Yorkshire, John Armitage who had worked for the RSPB for 20 years: an interesting man to chat with: I've added his blog to the list.

Saturday 28 January 2017

Waxwing in the village and garden birdwatch at Hemblington Church

Despite a very chilly wind, Linda and I joined Sue and Peter at our delightful local round-towered church for the annual RSPB 'garden' birdwatch. Lots of visitors dropped in to add their eyes to the search and enjoy Sue & Katherine's soup and cakes! Linda had provided fat balls, feeders and suet blocks, so there were plenty of hedgerow birds in evidence, as well as some excellent fly-overs! Nice to meet and chat with Joyce & Andrew from the Hall, who regaled us with tales of their resident Little Owls!

Birding chums Ann & Brian Shreeve spent three hours with us: the Wren photo is one of Brian's. They told us that earlier  they'd had a Waxwing in their garden (a couple of hundred yards from our bungalow!) Brian had some fabulous photos, which made me just a little envious!

We'd been home a couple of hours when Brian rang the door bell, urging me to grab my camera and jump in his car. After a brief wait in his lovely conservatory, Ann noticed that the Waxwing had returned, allowing me to get my first images of the species in our village!



Wren in the churchyard (Brian Shreeve)

Friday 27 January 2017

Unusual garden visitors...

Still stuck at home with my antibiotics, so it was nice to have a long visit from Paul, my oldest friend and bass-player of the last gigging band I was with (Serious Risk) The third picture is him playing an SR gig at - I think - The Brickmakers in Norwich.

Today two Common Gulls spent most of the morning either perched in the Oak at the end of our garden or feeding on suet that Linda had scattered on the lawn. Common Gulls (despite the name!) are certainly not that common here on the Heath: Black-headed Gulls are ten times as regular visitors to the garden!

Tomorrow I'm wrapping up warmly and helping (?) at the Garden Birdwatch event at Hemblingon Church. It would be good to beat last year's total, but somehow I doubt that it will happen!


Wednesday 25 January 2017

First trip out! Hooded Crow and Glaucous Gull

Brian offered to pick me up at a later-than-usual time (10am!) for a half day's excursion. Since I'm still incapable of walking more than a couple of hundred metres, we decided to visit the shelters at Sheringham to see if we could catch up with one of the numerous juvenile Glaucous Gulls that have turned up on the Norfolk Coast over the past week.

Despite being told by a 'friendly pair of birders' that the GG had been chased off by a dog, the first bird we saw on the beach was the target bird. This absolutely superb biscuit-coloured juvenile flew around obligingly before landing close to the promenade on the carcase of a seal pup. It fed for half an hour before we headed off to Cley for coffee.

Signs of the recent inundation were everywhere: the ticket hut at the beach car park was gone, while the 'beach hotel' had obviously been buried by the shingle.

Brian suggested we try for the Hooded Crow at Mautby and, although not really on our way home, we thought we'd have a bash, despite no recent news. On the way, we passed a dozen or so Bewick's at Ludham: many of the swans seem to have moved on.

By the time we reached Mautby the fog and low cloud made visibility very poor: after a few minutes I located the dark hybrid, but it was too far away for photos. We finished off by driving up the hill towards Mautby Lodge where suddenly the Hooded Crow hopped into view. Although distant, we managed a few reasonable record shots. And so home to flop!

Tuesday 24 January 2017

January Blackcap

As I was working in the office this morning I was delighted to see a male Blackcap pop up in the leylandii hedge outside my window. We occasionally hear or see Blackcaps in the Summer, but this is the first one to visit the garden in winter.

Meanwhile the regulars are very active in the sunlight: the Jays have now taken to exploring the crown of our Tree Fern!

As I was driving back from the Doctor's this morning, I counted five Buzzards around Dell Corner - I wonder if any will put in an appearance at the Church birdwatch on Saturday?


Monday 23 January 2017

Love and war in the south-western sky...

Venus and Mars have drawn close together again, and are a splendid sight at dusk: Venus is by far the brightest object in the sky at the moment and Mars is a really obvious orange-red colour. With binoculars - or better still a telescope - both show visible discs. Venus, being situated where it is in its orbit around the Sun, displays a Moon-like crescent.

Rob Holmes

Neighbour Sue wanted to buy some supplies for the 'Garden Birdwatch' at Hemblington Church on Saturday (I'll be there from 9.30!) so I took her to our local cash and carry, for which Linda and I have a card.

Since her one-time colleague and friend Rob Holmes works nearby, and knowing how much I admire Rob's birding experience and knowledge, she arranged for us to meet for coffee at the waterside café at Broadland BP.

The time flew by: I was amazed to discover that Rob remembers Linda and I making our rare bird videos back in the nineties and also how many mutual acquaintances we have! Hopefully Rob will give me a shout when he lures some clearwing moths in the Summer!

Sunday 22 January 2017


This morning Google decided to lock me out of my account: this meant I couldn't post on this blog or carry out any administrative tasks! There is, as many of you may know, no helpline as such, just a chatroom where people try to help each other out with what seems to be a common problem. In the end (and it took me several frustrating hours!) I logged on via my mobile and changed my passwords: it seems that this has worked - fingers crossed!

Saturday 21 January 2017

Mautby blank!

Linda suggested a drive out to Mautby to look for the long-staying Hooded Crow - just to get me out of the house, really!
We found the 'pig fields' without any trouble, and the area was alive with corvids and larids. Sadly, the one we were interested in failed to show, but there were plenty of dips to hide in and pig huts to lurk behind, so I imagine it was there somewhere!

We spent over an hour viewing the fields from various vantage points but the only photo op. was provided by a neatly-marked Buzzard that alighted in a distant tree for a second or two.

Back in the garden, the four Jays were up to their tricks again: here's a photo of the gang leader chucking peanuts down to his three cronies!

Friday 20 January 2017

More visitors!

Near-neighbours and birding chums Brian and Anne Shreeve dropped in to visit this afternoon. We had a good old 'mardle' and a couple of hours flew by! This lovely couple have a super house and grounds at the eastern end of the village, and have a formidable garden list - including Kingfisher! Like me, they spend a fair amount of time at the Fen and around the Heath and it's always fun to swap birding anecdotes and pass on new discoveries. Today they'd been at Strumpshaw from very early and had been rewarded by close views of a Water Pipit right in front of Fen Hide, skittering about on the frozen pool.

I have been very touched to realise what a  supportive and concerned group the Strumpshaw regulars are!

Quiz night with the Bure Valley Conservation Group

As I mentioned earlier, Linda, Sue, Peter and I formed a team to participate in the BVCG's fund-raising quiz night and supper at the White Horse, Upton.

We were very happy to take part in the quiz, not just because - like all their activities - it was terrific fun. but also because the money collected was added to the BVCG's donation towards the NWT's Hickling Broad land purchase appeal. If you've never visited Hickling, it's a terrific reserve, with Bitterns, Swallowtails, breeding Common Cranes and a terrific raptor roost in the winter. The Norfolk Wildlife Trust are raising money to purchase 650+ acres of prime habitat and secure its future as part of the managed reserve.

Well, despite my gloomy prognostications our team, 'The Aliens', acquitted itself well: we were joint winners, won the 'play off' ( thanks to Peter's UK geography knowledge!) but somehow came second in a somewhat bizarre 'second play off'! All terrific fun! Amazingly, Sue, Linda and I won a prize each in the raffle: mine was Bill Bailey's new bird book - most acceptable!

Amazing fact I learned during the evening: there are over forty Broads in Norfolk! Who'd've thought it?

Photo courtesy of NWT

Thursday 19 January 2017

Influx of Jays!

We frequently receive visits from Jays this time of year (as well as all the other familiar corvids) but today there were four Jays feeding simultaneously on peanuts. Interesting to watch how one bird extracted the nuts from the feeder and dropped them on the ground for the other three to pick up: real collaborative behaviour!

First excursion tonight: Linda, Sue, Peter and I are taking part in a fund-raising quiz night organised by the excellent Bure Valley Conservation Group. Since I'm still decidedly under par, I'll probably let the side down, but it'll be nice to escape from my bed for a couple of hours!