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January 2012

 

Friday 27th January

Well it seems that yesterday and today's reports of Cranes were a wind up, so maybe I'm not so blind after all. Mind you, didn't see much in my lunch break and didn't see any Long-eared Owls (just a couple of Woodcock) after work.

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Pink-footed Geese, Holkham, 27th January

 

Thursday 26th January

Lunch was spent at Brancaster Staithe today. I returned via Chalkpit Lane, just south of Titchwell, scouring the fields as I drove past in the hope of picking up something good. These fields can be good - I've seen all sorts of things down here, though nothing mega. I look at a lot of fields in my lunch breaks, always hoping to chance upon a Bustard or something, but of course I never come up with anything nearly so good. Now I know why. I now have proof that I am completely blind. I found out on Friday 27th that there have been up to 17 Cranes in the fields next to Chalkpit Lane for the past 3 days, with 10 there on Thursday. So when I was looking across a seemingly empty field desperately trying to turn the sods of earth into Sandgrouse, I completely failed to notice a flock of Cranes prancing around beneath my eyes. They're just about the biggest and most conspicuous birds on the planet - I've likened them to elephants before. And I didn't see them. What hope have I got of ever finding anything small and inconspicuous?!

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Buzzards, Choseley, 26th January

 

Wednesday 25th January

A Dark Chestnut turned up tonight - not a species I record very often. Also an ordinary Chestnut, though I didn't find it until the next day.

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Dark Chestnut (left) and Chestnut (right), Bawdeswell, 25th January

 

Sunday 22nd January

Popped up to Kelling for a bit today as a flock of Redpolls including an Arctic Redpoll have been showing well as they frequent some garden feeders. Redpolls provide one of the hardest ID challenges that birders are faced with as there is so much variability and overlap between the different forms. When I arrived there was a flock of well over 50 Redpolls present with many of the birds ridiculously close feeding on the ground. Among these were two that stood out from all the others as they were clearly very much whiter than the rest. At first they seemed very similar to one another, but some differences were apparent. One had a thick neck, a tiny bill and cleaner paler ear-coverts compared to the other - this one was certainly an Arctic Redpoll. The other was, presumably, a Mealy Redpoll, although it has been reported as a second Arctic by some observers. Most of the time it was in view it was on the ground and so consequently I never got a really clear view of the undertail-coverts or the rump. The rest of the Redpolls were interesting too and created some debate as to whether they were all Lesser Redpolls or a mixture of Lesser Redpolls and Mealy Redpolls. Clearly none of them even came close to the white Mealy Redpoll, but some of them were noticeably less brown than others, with whiter wing-bars, and typically it was these birds that were distinctly larger than the more strongly brown and buff birds. But with different ages and sexes and different states of wear involved (not to mention straightforward individual variation), I'm really not sure that the observed differences necessarily indicated that different forms were involved. One thing I have yet to get to grips with is the limits of variation within each species (and I'm not alone, judging from the conversations taking place on and off site). However I struggle to see some of the biggest and greyest individuals as being Lesser... especially as some of them had distinctly white background colour to the rump. If they are Mealy then what age/sex are they, and what age/sex was the dinstinctively different one that looked much more like the Arctic? See what you think from the photos below (and then let me know)!

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Arctic Redpoll, Kelling, 22nd January

 

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Mealy Redpoll, Kelling, 22nd January

 

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Redpolls, Kelling, 22nd January - Mealy and Lesser Redpolls? Let me know what you think!

 

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Woodpigeon, Bawdeswell, 22nd January

 

Wednesday 18th January

Working in London today I got home a bit late to take advantage of the milder conditions, but an interesting-looking micro had been attracted to the porch light. I didn't recognise it and initially thought it would be my first new species of the year. Eventually though, I resolved it as Ypsolopha ustella - not a new species for me, but a very different-looking individual from the stripy one I had in the bedroom last February. It appears to be Norfolk's first January record, though I suspect that has more to do with the number of people trapping in winter than its actual status. Also a nice Pale Brindled Beauty.

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Ypsolopha ustella, Bawdeswell, 18th January

 

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Pale Brindled Beauty, Bawdeswell, 18th January

 

Saturday 14th January

No time for birding this weekend but as I had to move my car I decided to move it to Swanton Morley briefly. A quick walk round failed to produce anything of any real interest, although the airfield was heaving with thrushes, finches and skylarks.

 

Friday 13th January

A quick look at the Brents at Wells during my lunch break produced one that appeared to be a Black Brant. I've come on a bit of a journey with regard to identifying Black Brants, though I haven't reached the destination yet. Several of the Black Brants that have wintered in Norfolk have produced hybrids and telling these from the pure birds is not always straightforward. To cut a long story short I've gradually realised that some of the features I was using to rule out pure Black Brant (and therefore identify a bird as a hybrid) were not valid. I always realised the darkness of the back and breast can vary according to the conditions, but the more I see birds switch from looking perfect to looking rubbish as the clouds change or my angle to the bird changes, the more I realise that I hadn't grasped the extent to which this was the case. I've also come to suspect that the extent of variation in the brightness of the flanks and the detail of the white neck collar is greater than I had previously imagined too. I've still got lots to learn with these but it's becoming increasingly apparent to me that the proportion of Black Brant hybrids to pure Black Brants may not be quite as large as I once thought it was. Today's bird changed appearance as it changed angle and I'm not 100% sure it was pure, but I think it probably was despite it having a little more dark in the flank than I'd ideally like to see.

After the Brents were disturbed and hopped over to the harbour I took a quick look from the quay, where the first-winter Shag was still present.

A much colder evening didn't hold much promise for moths, but it's always worth putting the light on and opening the window just in case, and tonight this produced a Chestnut.

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Shag, Wells, 13th January

 

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probable Black Brant, Wells (left) and Chestnut, Bawdeswell (right), 13th January - I've had one comment to the effect that this has too much dark in the flanks to be a pure bird, but does it? There are a lot of photos from North America on the web which show as much dark in the flanks, but most of the photos I've looked at so far are not far from where Grey-bellied Brent Goose is meant to winter, so maybe they aren't pure nigricans either?

 

Tuesday 10th January

No moths at home tonight, but a Winter Moth at work.

 

Monday 9th January

Another Mottled Umber tonight despite a clear sky and a full moon.

 

Sunday 8th January

A smart Mottled Umber and an Early Moth were in tonight and a Little Owl was calling outside the window again - I've still never seen it from my property. Also Tawny Owls calling.

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Mottled Umber (left) and Early Moth (right), Bawdeswell, 8th January

 

Saturday 7th January

Warmer conditions produced 2 Winter Moths tonight.

 

Wednesday 4th January

I returned to the same Pink-foot flock as yesterday in today's lunch break. There seemed to be just as many Pink-feet, if not more, but I could only find 2 Tundra Bean Geese in amongst them. A cold wind was blowing straight into my car window and I decided to abandon the geese in favour of a very quick look in the Wells/Holkham area. I didn't have long but 30 seconds at Wells quay produced this first-winter Shag.

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Shag, Wells, 4th January

 

Tuesday 3rd January

At lunch time today I located a flock of Pink-footed Geese feeding south of Burnham Market. They contained no less than 11 Tundra Bean Geese (in 4 separate groups of 2 or 3) and a Barnacle Goose. I've seen far less in far bigger flocks of Pink-feet!

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Tundra Bean Geese, south of Burnham Market, 3rd January

 

Monday 2nd January

I headed off to Buckenham this morning where one of the first things I saw was a Chinese Water Deer. It's always a good place in the winter, and no less so for having a Lesser White-fronted Goose there among the Bean Geese. I wanted to see it, but I wasn't as desperate as some of the rather too many visitors hairing down the track to see it without looking at anything else along the way. I reckoned if there had been a drake American Wigeon in the dyke next to the path most of them would have rushed straight past it without noticing it. So I took my time, checking the wigeon and the nearer geese, and anything else that caught my eye. Eventually I arrived at the mill whereupon I discovered the Lesser White-front had flown over the railway with most of the Bean Geese, just a few moments earlier. Yesterday it had done this (but much later in the morning) and hadn't come back until dusk; the area they had gone to is private and there is absolutely no way of viewing the geese there.

This was unfortunate, but not the end of the world. There were still 118 White-fronted Geese present which allowed me to have a good look through them for anything interesting. The 37 feral Barnacle Geese contained two hybrids - the Red-breasted Goose x Barnacle Goose hybrid that has been in the valley for a while now and the bird I've previously identified as a Snow Goose x Barnacle Goose hybrid. The bill isn't very impressive on this bird - not much bigger than I'd expect on a Ross's Goose x Barnacle Goose, but the bird itself is quite substantially larger than the Barnacle Geese. Ross's hybrids can be a bit bigger than Barnacle, but the size of this beast pointed me towards Snow x Barnacle as the more likely ID. I'm not sure though - I'd prefer it to have a longer neck and a bigger hooter!

A few people had walked on down the river bank, breaking the skyline as they did so. I wondered if this had been the reason the Bean Geese and Lesser White-front had moved off - although they were a fair way off they are really shy birds and I've seen evidence before of birds at this range being disturbed by people walking down the river bank. When I later spoke to them it transpired that the geese had indeed flown as they were walking down. I decided I wanted to walk down there anyway, but rather than add to the disturbance I kept a low profile walking along the bottom of the bank. From the sluice there were 8 Taiga Bean Geese visible, but little else. These weren't visible from the mill and somehow the people there must have got wind of the fact that Bean Geese were visible from the sluice and they all charged down towards me, along the top and breaking the skyline. I didn't think the remaining Beans would tolerate this and sure enough they hopped over the railway and out of sight as the crowd turned up. The lesson from this is, if you must walk down the river bank keep down low so as not to break the sky line, otherwise the Bean Geese (and the Lesser White-front) probably won't hang around. Not that most of the people I said this to took a blind bit of notice!

I headed back to the car slowly, pausing for a long chat with Murray and to enjoy the spectacle of hundreds of Golden Plover wheeling around as various raptors moved through, sometimes seen but more often not (a brief Peregrine was the best of those seen). I arrived at the car park and was about to get in the car and leave but noticed people looking intently and quickly checked in that direction. A flock of geese was flying towards me. The first bird I locked onto showed a clear white blaze and I thought, ah, just the same flock of White-fronts going for a fly-around and I continued to get in the car. Then I thought, strange that there were so many immatures there with no white blaze - most of the birds I'd seen earlier were either adults or advanced enough to show some white! Perhaps I better check them again a bit more carefully. Ah, they're Bean Geese! And there's only one with a white blaze and it's tiny! The Lesser White-fronted Goose was heading straight for me with a pack of Taiga Bean Geese! They ended up going down, much closer than I would have expected (though not exactly close). I headed back towards the mill so as to get a view with better light and spent an enjoyable few minutes (well, quite a few actually) studying both the Lesser White-front and the Taiga Beans (of which I counted at least 62).

On the way back home a Red Kite flew low over the A47 close to a regular site and a drive past Swanton Morley produced a Little Egret in flight.

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Lesser White-fronted Goose (with Taiga Bean Geese), Buckenham, 2nd January

 

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Taiga Bean Geese, Buckenham, 2nd January

 

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presumed Barnacle Goose x Red-breasted Goose hybrid (left) and possible Snow Goose x Barnacle Goose hybrid (right), Buckenham, 2nd January - the size of the right hand bird suggests Snow Goose involvement rather than Ross's Goose, but the structure is disconcerting

 

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White-fronted Geese, Buckenham, 2nd January

 

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