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March 2011

 

Thursday 31st March

A clear windy evening was never going to be the best for moths, but it did produce another new species for me, and a reasonably interesting one I think: Small Brindled Beauty. Very little else: Early Thorn, Common Quaker, 3 Clouded Drabs, Twin-spotted Quaker and Hebrew Character.

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Small Brindled Beauty, Bawdeswell, 31st March

 

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Common Quaker (left) and Clouded Drab (right), Bawdeswell, 31st March

 

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Early Thorn, Bawdeswell, 31st March

 

Wednesday 30th March

Another go at Heacham/Hunstanton in my lunch break failed to produce much, except for a single Wheatear.

Fewer moths tonight, perhaps partly due to the colder weather but also because I got home late. However they included another Red Chestnut and an interesting moth which I first thought must be my first Powdered Quaker, but it didn't seem quite right. In the end I think it must have been the immaculata form of Twin-spotted Quaker - I'm not sure how common or uncommon that form is. The rest were more standard fayre: Shoulder Stripe, Small Quaker, 3 Common Quakers, 2 Clouded Drabs and a normal Twin-spotted Quaker.

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Red Chestnut (left) and Twin-spotted Quaker (form immaculata) (right), Bawdeswell, 30th March

 

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Wheatear, Heacham, 30th March

 

Tuesday 29th March

Over a year since my last new bird for the house I nearly had two today. The first was long overdue, given that the house backs on to farmland and I've often seen them in places that are only just out of sight from my bedroom, but it has taken 4.5 years for me to see or hear one from the house. I still didn't see it, but a Yellowhammer was singing as I got up, and continued to do for most of the morning (I was working from home today). A Ringed Plover called after dark and would have been my first in the valley, not just from the house, but with just a single call heard I am not sufficiently certain to put that one down in the records.

Another new moth tonight, and one I had been keen to find as they're quite stunning little beasties: Pine Beauty. Sunday's Red Chestnut had escaped and hidden before I'd managed to evict it, so it was possibly the same one that reappeared tonight. Apart from that there were 2 Agonopterix sp., 3 Shoulder Stripes, Early Thorn, 7 Small Quakers, 6 Common Quakers, Clouded Drab, Twin-spotted Quaker, Hebrew Character and Early Grey.

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Song Thrush (left) and Red Chestnut (right), Bawdeswell, 29th March

 

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Pine Beauty, Bawdeswell, 29th March

 

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Shoulder Stripes, Bawdeswell, 29th March

 

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Agonopterix sp., Bawdeswell, 29th March

 

Monday 28th March

With a spring-like feel to the day I decided to try the track between Hunstanton and Heacham again in my lunch break, hoping to find a Black Redstart or two. That was before the pager told me there were three there, which nearly made me change my mind and try somewhere else where I could find my own birds! In the end I stuck to my original plan though, starting at the north end. A quick scan over a flat calm Wash revealed a few duck, the best of which were 8 Scaup close inshore. While watching them I noticed at least 2 Harbour Porpoises a bit further out - the first time I've seen them during a lunch break, and the first time I've seen them in the Wash. I spent a bit too long enjoying these to have time to do the track properly, but managed one of the Black Redstarts and a Wheatear. Also lots of Meadow Pipits around which were clearly migrants, though I don't know whether the same was true of the Reed Buntings that seemed to be more in evidence than usual.

Just 14 moths tonight: 1 Shoulder Stripe, 1 March Moth, 3 Small Quakers, 1 Common Quaker, 5 Clouded Drabs and 3 Hebrew Characters.

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Scaup, Hunstanton, 28th March

 

Harbour Porpoises, Hunstanton, 28th March

 

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Reed Bunting (left) and Sparrowhawk (right), Hunstanton, 28th March

 

Sunday 27th March

A few moths tonight, though nothing special amongst them except for another Red Chestnut. The rest were Early Thorn, 5 Small Quakers, 4 Common Quakers, 5 Clouded Drabs and 2 Hebrew Characters.

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Red Chestnut, Bawdeswell, 27th March

 

Saturday 26th March

The forecast I looked at last night was completely wrong, so I turned up at Sheringham with Dave expecting it to be partly cloudy, calm and dry. It was actually cold and breezy, and before long started to rain. On the sea there wasn't much happening except a few small flocks of Common Scoters moving past distantly (I saw 42, others who spent longer looking apparently counted the best part of 1000!) and Dave picked up a Peregrine moving east. On land my first Wheatears of the year were present but, although I think I heard one briefly, we couldn't find the Lapland Buntings again. I was surprised to flush a Woodcock and there were at least 20 Bramblings present. As we returned to the car in the rain I picked up 3 sawbills flying east over the cliff-top fields. Although Red-breasted Mergansers are far commoner here than Goosanders, most of the former fly low over the sea whereas most of the latter fly high up, and sometimes over the land. I fully expected them to be Goosanders therefore, but so far as I could tell through heavily rain-splatted optics, these were in fact Red-breasted Mergansers. Frustratingly, and also looking through the rain, a distant flock of 28 birds flew west that I think were Waxwings. I lost them possibly dropping in at Weybourne so we later had a good look round the village, but no sign and as I'm not 100% sure they won't be going down (unless I later hear that they were picked up elsewhere!)

Next stop was going to be a look for last week's Rustic Bunting, but with rain apparently setting in and no recent news we decided to give that a miss. It had dried up again by the time we reached Guist Bridge and a drumming woodpecker as we got out of the car sounded suspiciously Lesser. There was Great calling nearby too, but the interesting bird failed to give us a second chance. A pair of Mandarins flew in, the first time I've seen them in the valley despite Dave having seen them here regularly. Much more unusual for this site, a drake Pintail flew over appearing to go down in the region of Bintree Mill. No sign of it there though, so we moved on to the site of the recent putative Little Bunting, only to find the maize crop has now been ploughed in. A quick stop at Swanton Morley was productive with my first hirundines of the year - and all three species! Most numerous, of course (given the date), were about 30 Sand Martins, but among them we also picked out at least 2 Swallows and a House Martin. Although they were my earliest ever, the Swallows weren't particularly unexpected - there have been a few around and I've often seen them at the very tail end of March and it was only my earliest by a day. The House Martin was more surprising, my earliest by a week.

I know it's turned colder today but I wasn't expecting quite such a contrast from last night on the moth front - just half a dozen moths tonight.

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Wheatear, Sheringham (left) and Mandarins, Guist Bridge (right), 26th March - shame I had the camera on the wrong priority setting when the Mandarins flew by!

 

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Clouded Drab (left) and Hebrew Character (right), Bawdeswell, 26th March

 

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Common Quaker (left) and unidentified eggs (right), Bawdeswell, 26th March - the eggs were on my study ceiling - not many moths reach that far into the house but there have been one or two Small Quakers and a Twin-spotted Quaker here briefly before getting evicted so perhaps one of them was responsible?

 

Friday 25th March

Lots of moths again tonight, but this time I came up with a plan that means (a) I can get an accurate count, (b) I can evict them before I go to bed which stops them annoying Vitty and (c) I know the next day's ones are unlikely to be left over from the night before. After photographing each one I potted them up ready to release just before turning the lights out. Why didn't I think of that before? Well, it would have worked if I hadn't run out of pots.

A good-sized haul of 42 new moths, the best being my first ever Red Chestnut. The rest consisted of just 6 species including 12 Small Quakers (I find the number of these this month quite remarkable given that I'd never seen a single one before), 5 Common Quakers, 11 Clouded Drabs, 3 Twin-spotted Quakers (again, a new species for me this month), 5 Hebrew Characters and 5 Early Greys.

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Grey Partridge, Amner, 25th March

 

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Red Chestnut, Bawdeswell, 25th March

 

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Clouded Drab (left) and Common Quaker (right), Bawdeswell, 25th March

 

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Small Quaker (left) and Twin-spotted Quaker (right), Bawdeswell, 25th March

 

Thursday 24th March

Lots of moths tonight - a bit too many to keep track of and with some of them behaving quite energetically I thought it best to evict them before going to bed. That's when I realised how many more than I'd realised were in the room, as there were lots flying around after lights out! Consequently I'm not sure how many there were of what, but Clouded Drabs at least were in double figures. Among the others an Early Thorn was new for the year.

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Clouded Drab (left) and Common Quaker (right), Bawdeswell, 24th March

 

Wednesday 23rd March

Highlights of a lunch break were Chiffchaff at Coxford and Nuthatch at Raynham Lake. On the moth front another Oak Beauty was stunning - it must have arrived on 22nd unseen. Not so many new ones tonight, but a handful included another Twin-spotted Quaker and a Diurnea fagella.

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March Moth (left) and Diurnea fagella (right), Bawdeswell, 23rd March

 

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Oak Beauty (left) and Shoulder Stripe (right), Bawdeswell, 23rd March

 

Tuesday 22nd March

Lunchtime produced my first Small Tortoiseshell of the year. Some 20 moths this evening by the far the best of which was my first Water Carpet.

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Water Carpet (top left) and 3 Clouded Drabs, Bawdeswell, 22nd March

 

Monday 21st March

Interesting to get good views of a female var. tenebrosus Pheasant at lunch time. The males are the very dark and often called melanistic, but that's not technically correct. They're also often reported as Japanese Green Pheasants, but that's not correct either. I'm assuming the dark plumaged female Pheasants I see around are the same variation, but it's interesting that many of them have distinctive pale fringes to their otherwise dark feathers. I'd seen this a few times before, but what I hadn't noticed before, though I can see traces of it in other photos, is the purple sheen on the female's neck. Not something I'd expect and so far I have no explanation for it.

Tonight's highlight was a Plume Moth I'd not seen before: Amblyptilia acanthadactyla. Others were another Agonopterix sp. (darker than most - is this variation or is it a different species?), Twenty-plume Moth, Shoulder Stripe, Dotted Border, Engrailed and Small Quaker.

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Pheasant (var. tenebrosus) (left) and Red-legged Partridge (right), Wolferton, 21st March

 

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Amblyptilia acantadactyla, Bawdeswell, 21st March

 

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Engrailed (left) and Twenty-plume Moth (right), Bawdeswell, 21st March

 

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Agonopterix sp., Bawdeswell, 21st March

 

Sunday 20th March

A good variety of moths this evening with 10 species: Agonopterix sp., March Moth, Shoulder Stripe, Small Quaker, Common Quaker, Clouded Drab (2), Twin-spotted Quaker, Hebrew Character, Early Grey and Chestnut.

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Twin-spotted Quaker (left) and Small Quaker (right), Bawdeswell, 20th March

 

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Shoulder Stripe (left) and Hebrew Character (right), Bawdeswell, 20th March

 

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March Moth (left) and Clouded Drab (right), Bawdeswell, 20th March

 

Saturday 19th March

Plenty of birds were on the move at Sheringham this morning, but with clear skies they were mostly way too high to see them! A trickle of typical March migrants were seen lower down though, including Siskins and other finches, Meadow Pipits, Stock Doves, etc. Some people tell me that they can pick out White Wagtails from Pied Wagtails on call, but I've never managed to do that myself. However an odd call caught my attention this morning and looking up I saw a very pale-mantled wagtail moving through. Not 100% sure, but I think it was probably a White Wagtail.

Best bird was a Merlin - judging by the blue tone to the upperparts (much more obvious in the field than apparent from the photo) I guess it had to be male, but with no orange underneath it was presumably a first-winter male. Or can females be this bluish above? There were Siskins and Bramblings in the wood but apart from Stonechats there weren't many grounded migrants. No sign of the Lapland Buntings either, though visitors reported them in the usual place later in the day (along with a Water Pipit which was surely a Scandinavian Rock Pipit?).

Other people have been reporting butterflies for a while, but a Brimstone in Rob's garden was my first butterfly of the year. Tonight's moths were Early Grey, 2 Shoulder Stripes and a Small Quaker.

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Brambling (left) and Merlin (right), Sheringham, 19th March

 

Friday 18th March

Most of the moths I attract to my bedroom leave overnight after I've turned the lights out, but sometimes one or two will stay the night, especially if they've made their way into another room where the windows aren't open through the night. Occasionally I'll find one the next day that I'd not seen the night before, but until recently that didn't happen very often. This year it's happening much more. I think it's because I've started to use an MV light and though it's better at attracting moths in, the moths obviously find the light too bright once they get here and make a more determined effort to hide (under the bed, behind furniture, etc.). Anyway, no new moths tonight but one that had remained hidden last night was another Grey Shoulder-knot.

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Brown Hare, near Choseley, 18th March

 

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Pheasant, west of Burnham Market, 18th March - these pale-backed variants seem to be the new fashion now that the so-called melanistic birds appear to be dropping off again. Does anyone know if this variant has a name?

Grey Shoulder-knot, Bawdeswell, 18th March

 

Thursday 17th March

1-2 Small Quakers and an Early Grey were new in tonight, but better was my first ever Lead-coloured Drab.

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Lead-coloured Drab (left) and Early Grey (right), Bawdeswell, 16th March

 

Wednesday 16th March

A Hebrew Character was the only new moth I found this evening.

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Grey Plover, Burnham Overy Staithe, 16th March

Hebrew Character, Bawdeswell, 16th March

 

Tuesday 15th March

2 Early Greys and a Small Quaker tonight.

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Small Quaker, Bawdeswell, 15th March

 

Monday 14th March

The track between Heacham and Hunstanton can be good for early spring migrants so I had a drive up there during my lunch break. No migrants at all, but from the hump at the Hunstanton end I could see a flock of at least 23 Scaup on the Wash.

Moths tonight were Common and Small Quakers and Hebrew Character.

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Scaup, Hunstanton, 14th March

 

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Common Quaker, Bawdeswell, 14th March

 

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Varied Carpet Beetle? (left) and Small Quaker (right), Bawdeswell, 14th March

 

Sunday 13th March

No birding today unfortunately, and no moths arriving either. Two or three hadn't left overnight though, including one I hadn't noticed the previous evening: a Clouded Drab.

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Clouded Drab, Bawdeswell, 13th March

 

Saturday 12th March

I started this morning looking for the reported probable Little Bunting between Bintree and Billingford. There were plenty of Bramblings and Chaffinches present, along with a small number of Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers, but no sign of the target bird. I could occasionally see more buntings in the hedgerow at the bottom of the field, so I wandered down the track and found a flock of about 12-15 Reed Buntings. There were a few first winter males in there, with varying amounts of dark starting to come through on their heads. Such birds have caused a bit of confusion in the past with even some relatively experienced birders getting caught out by them, although they don't really resemble any other species (e.g. Little Bunting) to my eyes. I still don't know who the observer was, or what he or she saw to suspect Little Bunting, so I'm not saying they just saw one of these odd Reed Buntings...

Swanton Morley failed to deliver anything very exciting, again, so I headed up to Sheringham where there have been reports of a large flock of Lapland Buntings recently. Nothing unusual there - we often have Lapland Buntings at Sheringham, but usually they're in single figures and usually they're hidden in stubble only being seen when they're flushed. This was a flock of at least 66 and they were all feeding in full view on the ploughed field. I arrived to find a bunch of trespassing twitchers. Fortunately, despite being where they oughtn't, they appeared to be behaving relatively sensibly and were enjoying fabulous views of about 60 Lapland Buntings, including a few males well on their way to their summer finery. The flock appeared to be gradually getting closer but the people, some of whom weren't being as quiet as I'd have liked, limited how close they got and prevented me from getting the quality of photo I would have liked. There were at least 3 Stonechats here too - March is usually the best time for spring migrant Stonechats.

Buntings remained the theme for the day as I next found myself at Salthouse where a pair of Snow Buntings performed nicely. After this I stopped off briefly at Blakeney where Mr Furze pointed out a Nordic-type Jackdaw which has apparently been around for a couple of years and at Bayfield Lake where the Ross's Goose, Barnacle Geese and presumed Ross's x Barnacle Goose hybrid were present along with at least 9 White-fronted Geese.

Tonight's moths included Common Quaker and Shoulder Stripe but best was my first ever Grey Shoulder-knot, and a fine beast it was too.

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Lapland Buntings, Sheringham, 12th March

 

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Snow Buntings, Salthouse, 12th March

 

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Turnstones, Salthouse, 12th March

 

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Stock Dove, Blakeney, 12th March

 

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Rook, Sheringham, 12th March

 

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Nordic-type Jackdaw, Blakeney (left) and Common Gull, Salthouse (right), 12th March

 

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Colt's-foot (left) and Marsh Tit (right), Swanton Morley, 12th March

 

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Pheasant, Billingford - Bintree (left) and Grey Shoulder-knot, Bawdeswell (right), 12th March

 

Friday 11th March

Last winter, or it might have been the winter before, I discovered a large flock of buntings and finches along the minor road that runs between Billingford and Bintree. Thinking it looked like a promising place to find a rare bunting I have checked this location a few times since. Previously the best spot was the maize strip south of the double bends towards Billingford but this year the most productive area has been another maize strip north of the bends towards Bintree. However on my few visits earlier this winter I'd not seen much at all and I've not checked there very thoroughly for a while. I didn't know that any other birders were even aware of this location, let alone checking it, but yesterday I was a bit taken aback by a pager message announcing the presence of a Little Bunting here! It hadn't been relocated in the afternoon but it didn't sound like there were many birds there at that point at all. As my last couple of unproductive visits were also pm I wondered if this was a morning site. I stopped off on the way to work today, and again on the way home. In the morning the strip was heaving with Chaffinches and Bramblings (mainly Chaffinches) but, with little time, unsuitable attire for doing more than looking from the car and a bright sun in my eyes I was unable to locate the Little Bunting... or any other bunting for that matter (though I could hear Yellowhammers). The afternoon stop failed to produce any passerines, so it does indeed appear that mornings may be better.

This evening's mothing produced a second Twin-spotted Quaker, an Early Grey and another Agonopterix.

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Early Grey (left) and Twin-spotted Quaker (right), Bawdeswell, 11th March

 

Thursday 10th March

Stopped off at Tattersett in my lunch break to see if I could find the Mallard x Muscovy Duck hybrids - which I could, and there were three of them. Unfortunately they were either preening vigorously or sleeping, so the photos need some improvement. Across the road the Little Egret was at Coxford.

I continue to be amazed at the pace of new moth species arriving. Tonight's first was a Twin-spotted Quaker. There were also two nice Shoulder Stripes, another Chestnut and another Hebrew Character.

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Twin-spotted Quaker (left) and Chestnut (right), Bawdeswell, 10th March

 

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Shoulder Stripes, Bawdeswell, 10th March

 

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Mallard x Muscovy Duck hybrids, Tattersett, 10th March

 

Wednesday 9th March

Tonight's moths were 3 Dotted Borders and another Agonopterix sp. (heracliana-type).

 

Tuesday 8th March

Lunch at Brancaster Staithe:

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Redshank (left) and Dark-bellied Brent Goose (right), Brancaster Staithe, 8th March

 

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Black-headed Gulls, Brancaster Staithe, 8th March

 

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Herring Gull, Brancaster Staithe, 8th March

 

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Turnstones, Brancaster Staithe, 8th March

 

Monday 7th March

A Small Quaker remained from last night but new were Common Quaker, Dotted Border and probably Hebrew Character.

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Common Quaker, Bawdeswell, 7th March

 

Sunday 6th March

Thanks to Dave for finding it and Justin and James for telling me about its continued presence - I finally caught up with the Wigeon x Gadwall hybrid at Whitlingham today (along with a Black Swan). For two closely related species that often hang out together it's surprising these hybrids aren't recorded more often.

Tonight's moths included my first 2 Small Quakers and a Hebrew Character.

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Wigeon x Gadwall hybrid, Whitlingham CP, 6th March

 

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Small Quaker (left) and Hebrew Character (right), Bawdeswell, 6th March

 

Saturday 5th March

A group trip to Titchwell today was productive despite the drizzle. At least the group seemed to enjoy it, with a nice variety of birds seen well. Rarest in Titchwell terms was a drake Mandarin, although chances are it was an escapee from a collection. A good opportunity for the group to scrub up on their orange-legged wader ID was provided by a trio close to the path consisting of Ruff, Redshank and Spotted Redshank. They also enjoyed getting good views of things like Snipe, Curlew and Pintails. A variety of sea duck entertained those with good eye sight but a Diver sp. was just too far to do anything with (but looked suspiciously like Black-throated Diver). With the weather now closing in we returned to the centre, taking in 3 Stonechats and a Water Pipit along the way.

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Black-headed Gull (left) and Mandarin (right), Titchwell, 5th March

 

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Reed Bunting, Titchwell, 5th March

 

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Pintails, Titchwell, 5th March

 

Tuesday 1st March

Mallards and Muscovy Ducks, the two species of duck that are often domesticated, will readily breed with one another. Hybirds between the two species are reasonably frequent and I've seen scores of photos on the intranet. But my own experience of them is surprisingly minimal - just one quite subtle bird that I overlooked as an odd domestic Mallard a few years ago until Joern saw the photo and corrected me. There have been Muscovy Ducks at Tattersett for years - they're kept by someone I think but appear to be allowed to wander off at their leisure. At lunchtine today I briefly saw one, perhaps two, hybrid Mallard x Muscovy Ducks there. Too brief for photos, but I will return. There was also a Little Egret there.

 

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