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February 2011

 

Monday 28th February

Another Agonopterix sp. tonight, plus a Common Quaker which must have arrived unseen last night.

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Common Quaker, Bawdeswell, 27th February

 

Sunday 27th February

A look round Swanton Morley produced few interesting birds, though 3 Goldeneye was the most I've seen there for a while (ever?). I didn't have much time left but fancied a look for Stone-Curlews and Reeves's Pheasants and reckoned I had just enough time to go to the Brecks, so headed that way next. No sign of either so had to make do with some odd Common Pheasants. Lynford was dead but the liveliest (and deadliest) sighting of the day was at dusk at Hillborough where I happened across what was possibly the most ferocious fight I've ever experienced. No question about who was winning here, though why the loser didn't slope off quietly to avoid any more bloodshed I have no idea. The third bird that was presumably a female over which the two males were fighting kept a very close eye on the procedings throughout - hope she enjoyed the show!

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Goldeneye, Swanton Morley (left) and Treecreeper, Lynford (right), 27th February

 

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Red-legged Partridges, Hillborough, 27th February

 

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Pheasants, Great Cressingham, 27th February

 

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Greylag x Canada Goose hybrid, Swanton Morley (left) and Canada Goose, Lynford (right), 27th February

 

Friday 25th February

Tonight's moths included 2 Hebrew Characters, 2 March Moths, Pale Brindled Beauty and an Agonopterix sp. (heracliana-type).

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Grey Squirrels, Sandringham, 25th February

 

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Treecreeper (left) and Great Tit (right), Sandringham, 25th February

 

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Blue Tits, Sandringham, 25th February

 

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Great Tits, Sandringham, 25th February

 

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Coal Tits, Sandringham, 25th February

 

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Hebrew Characters, Bawdeswell, 25th February

 

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Pale Brindled Beauty (left) and March Moth (right), Bawdeswell, 25th February

 

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Agonopterix sp., Bawdeswell, 25th February

 

Thursday 24th February

With warmer conditions than of late tonight brought a veritable feast of moths, easily the best night of the year so far. First to arrive were at least 5, probably a few more, Agonopterix sp. I didn't get to see their underwings to clinch the ID but chances are they were A. heracliana. Next up were 3 March Moths, my first, second and third ever of this quite unattractive moth. Another new species for me was far more exciting to look at - an Oak Beauty. Other moths included an Early Grey, a Spring Usher on its last legs and a Dotted Border.

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Oak Beauty, Bawdeswell, 24th February

 

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Early Grey (left) and March Moth (right), Bawdeswell, 24th February

 

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Agonopterix sp., Bawdeswell, 24th February

 

Wednesday 23rd February

Two moths tonight: Dotted Border and Chestnut.

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Chestnut, Bawdeswell, 22nd February

 

Tuesday 22nd February

The Ross's Goose was near Shernborne at lunch time with a load of Pink-feet, but most of the flock was out of sight behind the brow of the hill. This evening saw another Dotted Border arrive.

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Ross's Goose, near Shernborne (left) and Dotted Border, Bawdeswell (right), 22nd February

 

Monday 21st February

Popped in to Thornham at lunchtime with no real expectation of seeing yesterday's Long-eared Owl. Driving up the road past the reservoir I saw a ringtail harrier and hope it would be the Northern. I stopped and there was a Sparrowhawk, but no harrier. Then another Sparrowhawk and eventually a harrier - but a Marsh Harrier! Surely I wasn't imagining it?! The the Marsh Harrier put up the bird I'd seen from the crop - it was just a Hen Harrier, but nice all the same.

Last Wednesday's Ypsolopha disappeared seconds after I first found it and I didn't see it again. I presumed that it had, like most moths that come in, left again during the night. Tonight though Ypsolopha ustella was clinging to the net curtain and as the pattern was precisely the same I think that for such a variable species it is safe to assume it was the same individual. After five days in the bedroom (or did it go out and come back in?) it didn't seem as lively, not flying but falling off when I gently nudged it!

Hen Harrier, Thornham, 21st February

 

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Sparrowhawk, Thornham, 21st February

 

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Ypsolopha ustella, Bawdeswell, 21st February

 

Saturday 19th February

Today I had a chance of seeing two different 'mega' rarities if all turned out well. But both birds had the potential to be difficult and the weather was abismal. I left home at 3.15, picked up Dave and headed to a residential street in Oxfordshire where, at 6.00 am in the dark and in pouring rain we joined an already long queue of barking mad twitchers. Dawn dawned, 7.45 passed, the time the quarry had flown into some poor unsuspecting birder's garden each of the last couple of days, but there was no sign of any rare bird. Just a lot of wet and, in the case of the ones near me, irritable twitchers. But then someone picked it up in a tree visible from the road and I quickly managed to get my scope on it - Oriental Turtle Dove! A few people had a quick look through my scope before it dropped down into the garden and out of view. Once in the garden it could only be seen by a handful of people at a time and from inside the finder's house. Very kindly he had agreed to allow bedraggled birders through his house to see it, a few at a time, and after a while it was our turn. The bird was on the bird table and would have been in full view except a) I was unfortunately positioned so that I had the central panel of the patio doors between me and the bird table and b) the warm conditions instantly caused all of my optics to be covered in thick condensation rendering them completely unusable. The bird flew off and, as we waited for it to return, my optics gradually returned to normal. The garden was full of birds, Bramblings, Siskin, Bullfinches and heaps more, but no more Oriental Turtle Dove. Time passed, and I was glad to be waiting inside as the rain continued to lash down. Eventually we heard that the dove had been relocated and could be viewed distantly from the bottom of the street, so, after establishing that if the last few days were anything to go by it was unlikely to return to the garden, I headed down and got good but distant views. Good enough to see it was the eastern form orientalis, which some authorities now treat as a distinct species from the also-rare form meena.

Then the news we wanted came through on the pagers - the Slaty-backed Gull was back at Rainham. It has been seen intermittently here and at Pitsea tip over the last few days, but there was every chance it wouldn't hang around. Indeed the pager message said it had already flown off, but in hope that it would return we sped off to the London/Essex border. Along the M40 about 5 Red Kites were seen - no doubt it would have been more if it wasn't for the rain. By the time we got close we received a message to say that it had now been seen on the unaccessible Pitsea tip, so we headed that way instead. A few gulls were in fields near the entrance to the tip including a Yellow-legged Gull, but not the bird we were looking for so we went to look from Vange Wick at Wat Tyler Country Park. There weren't many gulls there, so we exchanged mobile numbers with another birder who was going to look from there while we headed off to see if we could find any gulls round the other side of the tip. We did, but not from anywhere it was safe to look from, so, not far from the Ring-billed Gull at Westcliff we decided to pop down there - a foolish decision in hindsight, but we knew we'd get a call if the Slaty-backed Gull turned up (or so we thought). Despite the tide being right, despite the Ring-billed Gull being a "dead-cert" and despite no shortage of chips thrown, all we could find were 2-3 Mediterranean Gulls. I hadn't heard the pager go off when I noticed the message - the Slaty-backed Gull was back at Vange... but had flown off again! We headed straight back, making enquiries as to how on earth it could have been watched there for the best part of an hour before anyone put it on the pager! Well it seems that for most of the time they weren't at all sure they were watching the right bird - that's fair enough I suppose, I can understand not wanting put it out to the pagers in that case, but why on earth the person with whom Dave had exchanged numbers hadn't bothered to call us remains a mystery. He only needed to say they were watching a bird that some people thought might possibly be the Slaty-backed Gull and we, and the others we could have contacted, would have been in with a chance of seeing it. As it was we dipped - even if we hadn't have gone to Westcliff we wouldn't have got down there without the message, as was the case for some who were still looking at the entrance to the Country Park. How many more Saturdays will I have to spend at rubbish dumps in the wind or rain before I get to see this bird? Do I bother trying again or not...?

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Oriental Turtle Dove, Chipping Norton, 19th February

 

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Bramblings, Chipping Norton, 19th February

 

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Black-headed Gull (left) and Common Gull (right), Westcliff-on-Sea, 19th February - some people in Cheshire call 'hooded' Common Gulls like this 'Franklin's Gulls', allegedly

 

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Mediterranean Gulls, Westcliff-on-Sea, 19th February

 

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Black-headed Gull, Westcliff-on-Sea, 19th February - Red-tailed Tropicbird anyone?

 

Friday 18th February

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Dunlin (left) and Common Gull (right), Brancaster Staithe, 18th February

 

Thursday 17th February

Last night I was surprised to hear a Woodpigeon singing quietly in the garden when I went to bed at about 10 past 1 in the morning. I'm pretty sure there was a second bird duetting with it at one point too. Never heard of them behaving nocturnally like this before. There was also a Tawny Owl calling over it at one point. Tonight's moths consisted of another couple of Dotted Borders.

 

Wednesday 16th February

Two Dotted Borders tonight were nice, but a micro provided a tougher challenge. In the end it turned out to be Ypsolopha ustella, a very variable species with relatively few Norfolk records and none as early in the year as this, although the distibution of records suggest it might be increasing (or just being recorded more often?).

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Ypsolopha ustella, Bawdeswell, 14th February

 

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Dotted Borders, Bawdeswell, 14th February

 

Tuesday 15th February

Another Pale Brindled Beauty tonight.

 

Monday 14th February

A Raven had been reported at Sandringham during the morning so I spent lunch time looking for it. No sign but at least 9 Buzzards seen. After fishing out a Chestnut from the bath this morning another arrived this evening along with an Agonopterix heracliana.

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Chestnuts, Bawdeswell, 14th February

 

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Agonopterix heracliana, Bawdeswell, 14th February

 

Sunday 13th February

Another Pale Brindled Beauty this evening.

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Pale Brindled Beauty, Bawdeswell, 13th February

 

Saturday 12th February

It's been a while since I've been along to the monthly birdwatching group I used to help out with but today I joined them at Cley. I was late getting there as I had to divert to look for an interesting raptor that flew over the road at Foxley, but unfortunately I never managed to get on it again so it remains unidentified (possibly a Kite). Anyway the diversion took me to Themelthorpe where a Brambling flew up from the road. Cley was pretty quiet really, though the group seemed happy enough with what was on offer. Best birds were the Shore Larks, several of which were on the shingle. Next best bird wasn't seen so well - a Lapland Bunting was flying around Dauke's Hide calling for a while before it eventually landed on one of the islands, on the deck and in full clear view. Sadly though it was there for less than a second - as it was landing the Marsh Harrier appeared and flushed everything off including the Bunting which did not return.

Other sightings of interest included a few Pale-bellied Brent Geese - I reckon I saw at least 4 in the end. A Greylag Goose bore a green neck collar inscribed Y64. Turns out this is a Dutch bird - ringed on 22nd June 2009 in the Netherlands. It was reported from several locations in Netherlands between then and February 2010 but by the middle of next month it had moved to Norfolk, with regular sightings in the Cley area since then. I wonder how many of our feral geese originate from the low countries?

After leaving Cley I decided there were too many people in the car park at Salthouse to enjoy the Snow Buntings so I headed west instead, finding only a Greenshank at Morston.

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Marsh Harrier, Cley, 12th February

 

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Greenshank, Morston, 12th February

 

Thursday 10th February

Lunchtime today was wet and dull, very different from Tuesday at the same place. As a result there were fewer people and more birds (but not many interesting birds).

Goldeneye, Brancaster Staithe, 10th February

 

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Red-breasted Mergansers, Brancaster Staithe, 10th February (not Turnstones as previously captioned - thanks Stephen for pointing that out!)

 

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Turnstones, Brancaster Staithe, 10th February

 

Tuesday 8th February

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Dunlins and a Ringed Plover, Brancaster Staithe, 8th February

 

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Turnstones, Brancaster Staithe, 8th February

 

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Black-headed Gull, Brancaster Staithe, 8th February

 

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Black-headed Gull (left) and Redshank (right), Brancaster Staithe, 8th February

 

Monday 7th February

The problem with learning how to use your camera on a dull day is that you can easily rattle of 500+ photos in a lunch break and spend the next few evenings sorting them all out. Something to avoid in future, especially when the subjects don't include anything rarer than a Coal Tit.

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Blue Tits, Sandringham, 7th February

 

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Great Tits, Sandringham, 7th February

 

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Coal Tits (and a Robin), Sandringham, 7th February

 

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Robins, Sandringham, 7th February

 

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Blackbird (left) and Dunnock (right), Sandringham, 7th February

 

Sunday 6th February

Saw a Red Kite near Attlebridge today and despite the strong winds the evening produced 2 Spring Ushers and 2 Pale Brindled Beauties .

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Pale Brindled Beauties, Bawdeswell, 6th February

 

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Spring Ushers, Bawdeswell, 6th February

 

Saturday 5th February

I spent today checking various broads. On the whole I found very little of note, though a few interesting birds were seen. I started off at Whitlingham where earlier this week Dave N had seen and photographed a Wigeon x Gadwall hybrid. The Ross's or Snow Goose x Lesser White-fronted Goose hybrid was still there but I couldn't find the duck. I bumped into James Emerson watching a flock of Siskins which contained at least two pink-breasted male Lesser Redpolls. Redpolls were also seen at Cockshoot (probably Lessers, but only in flight) and at Barton Broad where a big deep-sounding white-rumped bird flew over (Mealy I guess).

There's been a Ferruginous Duck lookalike at Cockshoot Broad since last winter, though it only became common knowledge recently. This bird has proved controversial with the vast majority of visitors happy with its appearance but some careful and competent local birders who have watched it regularly since it arrived last winter (it was also present throughout the summer, which doesn't bode well for a wild origin) are convinced it is not a pure bird. Phil, who found it last winter, was leaving as I arrived and explained how he felt the head shape and bill shape wasn't right when watched for prolonged periods and the white belly was too diffusely bordered. I'd seen photos previously and to me the head shape and bill shape looked perfect for a pure bird (at least on some photos), but it can be different seeing things in life, hence why I wanted to see it today. I spent about 10-15 minutes watching it on the river before it disappeared round the bend and during that time it showed a horribly rounded head for practically the whole time. Sometimes there was a hint, occasionally more than a hint, of a typical Ferruginous Duck head shape but most of the time it really didn't look good at all. I've seen Ferrguinous Ducks, especially females and juveniles, looking round-headed before, but usually it's temporary and they revert to a more typical-looking head shape quickly (less so with juveniles, but this isn't a juvenile). I could also see what Phil meant with the bill shape - just a little bit short for comfort. Eventually it reappeared and as it swam across it showed a perfect Ferruginous Duck head shape - on that view alone I'd have had no concerns whatsoever. It also reared out of the water briefly while facing us, giving us a good view of the belly - to my eyes it looked exactly as I'd expect on a female Ferruginous Duck. So is it a hybrid? I'm not sure. If it is then it's certainly not a first-generation hybrid but a backcross. There were no plumage anomalies at all and the bill pattern was within range. First generation hybrids are pretty obvious given the opportunity to study them carefully (most are obvious with just a glance) but a hybrid backcrossed with a pure Ferruginous Duck, as could easily occur in captivity, would be much harder to detect, and it wouldn't take many (any?) more generations of backcrossing to produce a bird that was identical in every respect to a pure Ferruginous Duck. The question then becomes the same as we have with Pine Buntings which, in the hand, reveal a faint yellow wash to their primary fringes indicating some Yellowhammer genes. If they'd not been trapped no-one would have noticed the yellow so the prudent approach is to accept them as Pine Buntings, although we know they aren't really 100% pure. Equally I'm quite certain that many observers could have seen this bird, studied it carefully, photographed it and come away with a convincing and acceptable record of a pure Ferruginous Duck and the prudent approach seems to me to be to treat it as such, whilst recognising that this doesn't preclude the possibility there's another species somewhere in its ancestry. A bit like Slaty-backed Gulls with paler-than-typical mantles and slightly odd leg colour perhaps?

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Ferruginous Duck or backcrossed hybrid, Woodbastwick, 5th February

 

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Probable Ross's or Snow Goose x Lesser White-fronted Goose hybrid, Wroxham Broad, 5th February

 

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Pochard, Barton Broad, 5th February

 

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Coots, Barton Broad, 5th February

 

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Barnacle Goose (left) and Pied Wagtail (right), Wroxham Broad, 5th February - what, you never realised how similar they are...?

 

Wednesday 2nd February

I popped in to Burnham Norton during my lunch break where I quickly picked up a nice Rough-legged Buzzard cruising along the sea wall. Nearby the Ross's Goose was among Pink-footed Geese north of the A149.

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Ross's Goose (with Pink-footed Geese), Burnham Norton, 2nd February

 

Next month: March 2011

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Previous months:

2007: Jan ; Feb ; Mar ; Apr ; May ; Jun ; Jul ; Aug ; Sep ; Oct ; Nov ; Dec ;

 

2008: Jan ; Feb ; Mar ; Apr ; May ; Jun ; Jul ; Aug ; Sep ; Oct ; Nov ; Dec ;

 

2009: Jan ; Feb ; Mar ; Apr ; May ; Jun ; Jul ; Aug ; Sep ; Oct ; Nov ; Dec ;

 

2010: Jan ; Feb ; Mar ; Apr ; May ; Jun ; Jul ; Aug ; Sep ; Oct ; Nov ; Dec ;

 

2011: Jan