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March 2007

Previous months: January 2007 ; February 2007

 

Saturday 31st March

Heard my first Blackcap of the year this morning at Swanton Morley where other signs of spring included at least 13 Chiffchaffs singing and 4 Sand Martins. A Water Rail showed well, albeit not for the camera, and at least one, probably two more were calling. A Cetti's Warbler was singing from a different place from where I've heard one recently - a different individual perhaps? An escaped Chiloe Wigeon tried unsuccessfully to bring a South American flavour to the day before flying off with a couple of Mallards (its clipped wing didn't seem to bother it).

Chiloe Wigeon, Swanton Morley, 31-Mar-07 Egyptian Geese, Swanton Morley, 31-Mar-07

Chiloe Wigeon (left) and Egyptian Geese up a tree (right), Swanton Morley, 31st March 2007

 

Chiffchaff, Swanton Morley, 31-Mar-07 Dunnock, Swanton Morley, 31-Mar-07

Chiffchaff (left) and Dunnock (right), Swanton Morley, 31st March 2007

 

I decided to head up to Titchwell but when I went past Guist I saw at least 5 Buzzards in the air together (there may have been more - I was travelling at 60 mph and it wasn't safe to stop) so I decided to head back to Bintree Woods parts of which I reckon might provide a good vantage point for viewing raptors if they're on the move. Well, that plan didn't work, but I did find a species I've never seen before. No, not a bird, but one of the hundreds of British moths that I've not previously identified (I've not been trying long and there's tonnes of them, most of which you're fairly unlikely to see without a trap). This one was one of the day-flying species: an Orange Underwing. Also flushed a Woodcock here.

Then went on to Titchwell as planned, primarily to see the Green-winged Teal although I suspected that the lack of news meant it had gone. It had, and Little Gull and Spotted Redshank was all that was on offer.

Orange Underwing, Bintree Woods, 31-Mar-07 Black-headed Gull, Titchwell, 31-Mar-07

Orange Underwing, Bintree Woods, 31st March 2007

 

pink-flushed Black-headed Gull, Titchwell, 31st March 2007

 

Little Gull, Titchwell, 31-Mar-07 Little Gull, Titchwell, 31-Mar-07
Little Gull, Titchwell, 31-Mar-07 Little Gull, Titchwell, 31-Mar-07

foot-pattering first-winter Little Gull, Titchwell, 31st March 2007

 

 

Sunday 25th March

There's been a couple of reports of Peregrine at Sparham Pools recently but it was still a surprise to see one there this afternoon. A rather pale, brown bird, presumably a juvenile, although the possibility that it was an escaped falconer's hybrid perhaps wasn't completely ruled out. However there was no sign of jesses or anything and apart from seeming a shade paler than I expect juveniles to appear, it looked like a typical young Peregrine in every other respect. The area also held 8 Goosanders.

Turtles don't make good pets. Unfortunately a lot of people have found that out too late and in many parts of the world unwanted pet turtles have been released into the wild where they've wreaked havoc with the local wildlife. Until recently I wasn't aware that we suffered from this problem in the UK, although it didn't surprise me to find out that we do - not just in the UK, but at Sparham Pools. Check out the claws on this guy - no wonder it's not a good pet! I'm guessing that it's a Red-eared Slider Trachemys scripta elegans, but if you know better please let me know!

Turtle, Sparham Pools, 25-Mar-07 Marsh Tit, Walsis' Hill, 25-Mar-07

Turtle, Sparham Pools, 25th March 2007

 

Marsh Tit, Walsis' Hill, Sparham, 25th March 2007

 

Tufted Duck, Swanton Morley, 25-Mar-07 Blackbird, Swanton Morley, 25-Mar-07

Tufted Duck (left) and Blackbird (right), Swanton Morley, 25th March 2007

 

Greylag Goose, Swanton Morley, 25-Mar-07  

Greylag Goose, Swanton Morley, 25th March 2007

 

 

Saturday 24th March

It was nice first thing this morning, but it only lasted about quarter of an hour before it got cold, gloomy, windy and in the end, wet. Sparham Pools produced 2 Goosanders, Grey Wagtail, Green Sandpiper and Marsh Tit. Then I decided to explore a couple of new sites in my 5 km circle. Whitwell Common was a surprising site with potential for a few interesting birds, though I didn't find any today. I'd popped into Bintree Woods before but not walked round: today the approach road held half a dozen Bramblings and a particularly pale (bleached/worn?) Barn Owl performed well until it got frightened off by some rowdy dogs (actually, I think it was me that got frightened off).

Brambling, Bintree Woods, 24-Mar-07 Roe Deer, Sparham Pools, 24-Mar-07

Brambling, Bintree Woods, 24th March 2007

 

Roe Deer, Sparham Pools, 24th March 2007

 

Barn Owl, Bintree Woods, 24-Mar-07 Barn Owl, Bintree Woods, 24-Mar-07

Barn Owl, Bintree Woods, 24th March 2007

 

 

Wednesday 21st March

Brancaster Staithe at lunchtime:

Cormorant, Brancaster Staithe, 21-Mar-07 Cormorant, Brancaster Staithe, 21-Mar-07

Cormorant, Brancaster Staithe, 21st March 2007

 

Red-breasted Merganser, Brancaster Staithe, 21-Mar-07 Red-breasted Merganser, Brancaster Staithe, 21-Mar-07
Red-breasted Merganser, Brancaster Staithe, 21-Mar-07

 

 

male Red-breasted Merganser, Brancaster Staithe, 21st March 2007

 

Tuesday 20th March

Had the day off work today. Wasn't planning on spending it birding but with strong northerlies I had to give seawatching a go at Sheringham. Not a great deal happening - a few Fulmars and Kittiwakes moving through but no great numbers. A single Blue Fulmar was the only highlight.

 

Saturday 17th March

Not such a spring-like day today, although no sign of the promised snow that's supposed to be on its way. Spring-like birds though, in the form of 3 Sand Martins at Swanton Morley - quite an early record though not exceptional. Another new bird for the local yearlist was a Snipe, flushed from an area that I always fancied for this species.

Woodpigeon, Swanton Morley, 17-Mar-07 Woodpigeon, Swanton Morley, 17-Mar-07

Woodpigeon, Swanton Morley, 17th March 2007

 

Mute Swan, Swanton Morley, 17-Mar-07

 

 

first-winter Mute Swan, Swanton Morley, 17th March 2007

 

Friday 16th March

Spot the differences!

Bar-tailed Godwit, Brancaster Staithe, 16-Mar-07 Black-tailed Godwit, Brancaster Staithe, 16-Mar-07

Bar-tailed Godwit (left) and Black-tailed Godwit (right), Brancaster Staithe, 16th March 2007

 

Black-headed Gull, Brancaster Staithe, 16-Mar-07 Common Gull, Brancaster Staithe, 16-Mar-07

first-winter Black-headed Gull (left) and first-winter Common Gull (right), Brancaster Staithe, 16th March 2007

 

Turnstone, Brancaster Staithe, 16-Mar-07  

Turnstone, Brancaster Staithe, 16th March 2007

 

Wednesday 14th March

Popped along to Wells to see the 2 Red-breasted Geese at lunchtime. They're a popular species in captivity and despite them supposedly being expensive and hence well-contained, there are plenty of escaped birds on the loose. However when birds turn up among the wintering Brent Geese they're usually assumed to be wild vagrants. These two were first seen on their own at a reservoir in Lincolnshire which hardly helps their case for being wild vagrants, but they quickly joined up with the Brents and for some reason everybody seems to have conveniently forgotten that they didn't arrive with them and are happy to count them as genuine. Very dubious if you ask me, but attractive birds always worth seeing, whatever their origins.

Red-breasted Geese, Wells, 14-Mar-07 Red-breasted Goose, Wells, 14-Mar-07

adult Red-breasted Geese, Wells, 14th March 2007

On the way a Buzzard flew over the road at Holkham and on the way back a stonking male Hen Harrier flapped overhead just outside work at Bircham Newton.

 

Tuesday 13th March

Spent today resting at home following a fairly unpleasant liver biopsy yesterday. From the bed I heard a Chiffchaff singing, my 51st species seen or heard from the house.

This Common Quaker came in last night - my first identified moth this year:

Common Quaker, Bawdeswell, 12-Mar-07  

Common Quaker, Bawdeswell, 12th March 2007

 

Sunday 11th March

At least 5 Chiffchaffs were in good voice at Swanton Morley this morning. Another warbler exercising its vocal chords was a Cetti's Warbler, my first in the area although I had heard that a few are present in the valley now. This predominantly Mediterranean species has been pushing northwards for the last few decades - it didn't start breeding in the UK, and in Norfolk, until the seventies. They gradually built up a sizeable population in the Broads but didn't get further than this until much more recently. There are now a few pairs along the north coast and they're just starting to colonise the Wensum Valley. They have a very loud and distinctive song but are incredibly hard to see. A Water Rail tried competing with it briefly, but couldn't match the volume and soon shut up.

Tufted Ducks, Swanton Morley, 11-Mar-07 Pochard, Swanton Morley, 11-Mar-07

male Tufted Ducks (left) and Pochard (right), Swanton Morley, 11th March 2007

 

Great Crested Grebe, Swanton Morley, 11-Mar-07 Cormorants, Swanton Morley, 11-Mar-07

Great Crested Grebe (left) and Cormorants (right), Swanton Morley, 11th March 2007

 

Great Spotted Woodpecker, Swanton Morley, 11-Mar-07 Sparrowhawk, Swanton Morley, 11-Mar-07

Great Spotted Woodpecker (left) and Sparrowhawk (right), Swanton Morley, 11th March 2007

A lunch time stroll round Foxley Woods provided my first butterflies of the year. The first one got away without an ID, but 2 Commas were more obliging. Siskins have been very scarce this winter (at least I've not seen any round here) but some were heard calling this afternoon at Foxley. A few spring flowers are starting to come out:

Lesser Celandine, Foxley Wood, 11-Mar-07 Primrose, Foxley Wood, 11-Mar-07

Lesser Celandine (left) and Primrose (right, not the finest example!), Foxley Wood, 11th March 2007

 

Saturday 10th March

Went to Sheringham Bird Observatory in the hope of there being some visible migration. There were a few finches and things passing through and a good movement of tits. All the British species of tits are traditionally thought of as being non-migratory residents but small numbers move west along the north Norfolk coast every March. It's rare to see large numbers on passage though, and today's tally of 23 Great Tits was quite a good total.

Two Little Gulls remain on Main Field and while Rob & I were attempting to photograph these I became aware of a large dark shape hanging over us. Rob was first to get his bins on it and quickly called it - Red Kite! Fantastic views and even a few rubbishy photos obtained as it moved through - always an amazing bird to watch. Finding a Red Kite in Norfolk is always exciting but with birds being re-introduced (grrrr...) into much of England, when you bump into one it's often hard to know where it comes from. But there's a long-established trend of truly wild birds, migrants from the Continent, moving along the coast in early spring, so when you see a bird doing that at this time of year, it's a fairly safe bet that it's a wild bird not one that's come from a population that's been reintroduced as part of a grand publicity stunt (don't be fooled, it's got nothing to do with conservation). Other raptors included a nice Merlin knocking around all morning.

Red Kite, Sheringham, 10-Mar-07
Red Kite, Sheringham, 10-Mar-07 Red Kite, Sheringham, 10-Mar-07

Red Kite, Sheringham, 10th March 2007 (bottom right photo is crop of top photo)

 

Little Gull, Sheringham, 10-Mar-07 Little Gull, Sheringham, 10-Mar-07

first-winter Little Gulls, Sheringham, 10th March 2007

Popped into West Runton where an adult Mediterranean Gull performed nicely:

Mediterranean Gull, West Runton, 10-Mar-07 Mediterranean Gull, West Runton, 10-Mar-07
Mediterranean Gull, West Runton, 10-Mar-07 Mediterranean Gull, West Runton, 10-Mar-07

adult Mediterranean Gull, West Runton, 10th March 2007

 

Friday 9th March

Spent a pleasant evening wandering round Sparham Pools after work. Two Little Egrets flew over at dusk, Kingfisher and Tawny Owl could be heard calling and before it got quite so dark a Green Sandpiper provided a new bird for the year (although I'm sure they must be wintering in the area). Also 2 Goosanders still present.

 

Wednesday 7th March

Lunchtime spent at Brancaster Staithe:

Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Brancaster Staithe, 7-Mar-07 Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Brancaster Staithe, 7-Mar-07

Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Brancaster Staithe, 7th March 2007

 

Oystercatcher, Brancaster Staithe, 7-Mar-07 Oystercatcher, Brancaster Staithe, 7-Mar-07

Oystercatcher, Brancaster Staithe, 7th March 2007

 

Black-headed Gull, Brancaster Staithe, 7-Mar-07

 

 

Black-headed Gull , Brancaster Staithe, 7th March 2007

 

Saturday 3rd March

Cornwall has offered some extraordinary opportunities during the last week for anyone interested in seeing rare birds, culminating in an elusive Gyrfalcon finally being pinned down to a roost site on Friday evening. This news, backed up by mouth-watering photos of an incredibly confiding White-billed Diver was too much for me and the prospect of an overnight drive to Cornwall quickly began to take shape.

But if Cornwall isn't too far for a week-end then neither was Britain's first ever Glaucous-winged Gull which was discovered in south Wales on Friday. Combining the two was an option although it would require a 1200 mile drive and I still needed to be at work bright and early Monday morning! Logically, the gull should be priority as it's a mega-rare first for Britain that I may never have another opportunity to see here. On the other hand, Saturday's weather in the south-west was going to be good and it was going to rain all day Sunday. You can see a gull in the rain no problem but photographing a Diver, seeing a Gyrfalcon and clearing up on a host of other good birds in Cornwall would be more of a challenge in the rain. Throw into the equation that third-winter Glaucous-winged Gulls (which I've seen in North America) are one of the ugliest birds on the planet and white-phase Gyrfalcons (which I've never seen anywhere) are one of the most awesome birds on the planet, and the decision is made.

So, I set off with Dave Norgate mid evening, breaked in Exeter for an hour's kip and arrived at Padstow about an hour before dawn. There were already quite a few car-loads of birders lining the lane and one group was already setting off on foot for the disused quarry where the Gyrfalcon was roosting. Finding the quarry in the dark wasn't straightforward and as a result we weren't the first to arrive at the entrance from where the Gyr was visible when it got light enough. Limited viewing space meant it was a bit of a crush and this, combined with the still poor light meant that there was no chance of a photo. But it was a good job we got there when we did because after a few minutes it was off. For anyone reading this who doesn't know, Gyrfalcons are huge and impressive falcons from the Arctic which are extremely rare in the UK. Birders who've seen them abroad will have perhaps seen the darker races but those identified here are usually the most strikiing white form that originates from Greenland. On paper they're not all that rare in the UK with records well into the hundreds, but given that most of these were either in past centuries or brief sightings from really inaccessible locations, they remain highly sought-after when they turn up on the mainland. None of the recent records have been from anywhere closer than the far south-west so this magnificent bird was well worth the drive!

On the way back to the car a Great Northern Diver was seen and a surprise bonus immature Glaucous Gull drifted over.

The Hayle Estuary is a phenomenal site in south-west Cornwall that is always a rarity hotspot. But the concentration of good birds at the moment is unusual even for here. First priority was the White-billed Diver, another rare vagrant from the Arctic although one I'd seen a couple of times before. The pager messages said it was showing down to 20 feet so I was hopeful for some good views and perhaps even some photos. In reality 20 feet was about the furthest it got - I don't think I've ever seen any of the common species of diver as well as this before!

White-billed Diver, Hayle, 3-Mar-07 White-billed Diver, Hayle, 3-Mar-07
White-billed Diver, Hayle, 3-Mar-07 White-billed Diver, Hayle, 3-Mar-07
White-billed Diver, Hayle, 3-Mar-07  

White-billed Diver, Hayle, 3rd March 2007

Also at Hayle an overwintering Lesser Whitethroat was present which some observers believe belongs to the central Asian race halimodendri. I'm not convinced, but then again I'm not convinced that anyone really understands how to identify the various forms of Lesser Whitethroat yet. The race curruca is a common summer visitor to the UK but this was the first overwintering Lesser Whitethroat I've ever seen, whatever form it belonged to. It was elusive but showed well from time to time, although never for long enough to attempt any photos. It often paid fleeting visits to a bird-table in someone's garden but kept away when the owner's cat paid it a visit. The cat was easier to photograph though!

On our way round to the Lesser Whitethroat we passed a crowd watching the Spotted Sandpiper which was overwintering in the area. However the pager soon informed us that they had discovered the Franklin's Gull which had been seen briefly a couple of times on Friday. We were soon joining them and enjoying views of both of these rare vagrants from North America. The Franklin's Gull was only my second sighting of this species, following one in my home county of Norfolk in 1998.

Spotted Sandpiper, Hayle, 3-Mar-07 cat, Hayle, 3-Mar-07

Spotted Sandpiper, Hayle, 3rd March 2007

This cat was sharing a birdtable with the Lesser Whitethroat! (but not at the same time). Hayle, 3rd March 2007

Franklin's Gull, Hayle, 3-Mar-07 Franklin's Gull, Hayle, 3-Mar-07

Franklin's Gull , Hayle, 3rd March 2007

We'd managed to see all the main birds before 10.00 am and could probably have made it round to south Wales in time to see the Glaucous-winged Gull the same day, but we were extremely tired and wanted better views and photos of some of the same birds so decided to stick around Cornwall for the rest of the day. This wasn't so successful, but other interesting birds we saw on the Hayle included about 4 Great Northern Divers:

Great Northern Diver, Hayle, 3-Mar-07 Great Northern Diver, Hayle, 3-Mar-07

Great Northern Diver, Hayle, 3rd March 2007

Of course, rare birds weren't the only birds on offer. The following coincided with a stop at the Cornish Pasty shop:

Little Egret, Hayle, 3-Mar-07 Little Egret, Hayle, 3-Mar-07

Little Egret, Hayle, 3rd March 2007

 

Starling, Hayle, 3-Mar-07 Rook, Hayle, 3-Mar-07

Starling, Hayle, 3rd March 2007

Rook, Hayle, 3rd March 2007

We had no luck with the Dusky Warbler in Newquay and as the evening approached we returned to Padstow in the hope that the Gyr would return to roost. We arrived here to find hundreds of birders swarming all over the headland and figured that any self-respecting Gyrfalcon in its right mind wouldn't come within 10 miles of the place. This proved correct but as dusk approached and people started to give up and go, I speculated that it might finally arrive. A commotion from some Oystercatchers sounded promising and I suggested to Dave that they were probably being harassed by the Gyr. It was too dark for us to make out the Oystercatchers let alone the Gyr, but a shout from someone with keener eyes proved I'd been right and within seconds it was back on the quarry edge to roost. In the half-dark we could see it sat there but unfortunately there were still too many people present and their commotion caused it to depart prematurely. The moon was now lighting the sides of the quarry and I hoped that once everyone had gone it would return. With a long enough exposure I might even get some photos, I thought. I might have done, but we didn't quite give it long enough - the one remaining birder claimed to have seen it return a few minutes after we'd gone.

No photos of a moonlit Gyr, but here's the moon instead. I was up most of the night so I was gutted the following day to discover that there'd been a total lunar eclipse - if I'd known I'd have photographed that instead!

Moon, Stepper Point, 3-Mar-07  

The Moon, 3rd March 2007

I won't do an entry for Sunday. The Glaucous-winged Gull had first been seen (and trapped, ringed and released) in Gloucestershire in December but had disappeared before news seeped out. Its identity was, and still is, subject to some debate as it doesn't look particularly like most Glaucous-winged Gulls of a similar age (itself subject of debate) in North America. It's been speculated that east Asian birds are perhaps more similar and most people seem satisfied over its ID presumably on that basis.

After its initial observation in December it hadn't been seen again until Friday 2nd March when it was discovered near Carmarthen in south Wales. It wasn't there for long but was seen again on Saturday afternoon while we were in Cornwall. This time it was seen briefly on three occasions at three different sites, and not everybody who was looking for it managed to connect. We spent from dawn to dusk there on Sunday and as expected it teamed with rain all day long. We didn't see it. It was claimed from the site we'd spent most time at, but only briefly by a single observer. We win some, we lose some. Saturday was a win, Sunday wasn't.

 

Previous months: January 2007 ; February 2007

Next month: April 2007

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Should anyone care about my 5 km circle year-list, I've now seen (or heard) 91 species within 5 km of my home at Bawdeswell (birds marked with an asterisk * are new this month):