December 2013

 

Tuesday 31st December

Headed home today, taking in a quick look at a few spots along the Lothian coast where Surf Scoter and King Eider have been present recently. Limited time (at least before the rain set in) steered me towards prioritising the Eider so I headed straight for Gullane, omitting to look for the scoter in the Edinburgh area. For some reason the sat nav had other ideas and despite putting Gullane in it directed me to somewhere just inland of Cockenzie and Port Seton. I had a feeling the scoter had been seen there recently so decided to give it a look anyway. Nice birding with lots of sea duck (including 4 Long-tailed Ducks and at least 60 Velvet Scoter) as well as 5+ Slavonian Grebes and Red-necked Grebe. Nothing rarer though, so on towards Gullane, pausing at Longniddry Bends where 2 Long-tailed Ducks and another 40 Velvet Scoters were offshore, along with Great Northern Diver. At Aberlady Bay tonnes of birds were visible from the car park, though nothing more exciting than 6 Goldeneye and 2 Pintail.

As enjoyable as all this was it meant it took longer than planned to get to Gullane, and my arrival there coincided with the start of the heavy rain. From the car park I could see Great Northern Diver, 8 Long-tailed Ducks and 15 Velvet Scoter, but the few Eider I could see were far too distant to pick out a female King Eider even if it had been there. Stupidly I didn't check the messages for the detailed directions, otherwise I would have known that I wasn't at the right place - but in any case I'm not sure I would have walked the 1.5 miles necessary given the rapidly deteriorating weather. Although it would clear up later I didn't want to still be in Scotland that late! So I left there, had a quick look around Dunbar and Skataraw Harbour (no sign of the Grey Phalarope that had been present recently - just 8 Goldeneye), and then continued on home.

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Great Northern Diver, Longniddry Bends, 31st December

 

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Velvet Scoter, Cockenzie and Port Seton (left) and Stonechat, Barns Ness, Dunbar (right), 31st December

 

Monday 30th December

Spent most of the day birding in the rain with Stephen around some of his local sites, starting off with Loch of Kinnordy that has recently hosted Green-winged Teal, Smew and Bittern. We couldn't find any of these at first but eventually we located the Smew, a fine 'white nun'. Also at least 6 Whooper Swans, 4 Goosander, about 10 Goldeneye and an approachable Red Squirrel. Rescobie and Balgavies Lochs held another 25 Goldeneye and 3 Goosanders. At Montrose Basin it was difficult to see birds in the waves but a distant flock of about 30 Scaup were picked out along with plenty of Eider, Red-breasted Mergansers and more Goldeneye.

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Smew, Loch of Kinnordy, 30th December

 

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Goosander (left) and Red Squirrel (right), Loch of Kinnordy, 30th December

 

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Red-breasted Merganser, Montrose, 30th December

 

Sunday 29th December

Today we left Cumria for Dundee where we were visiting my brother. En route we stopped briefly at the River House Restaurant near Stirling as I had seen some interesting photos on Flickr of a couple of Shelduck x Wood Duck hybrids, a very unusual hybrid combination. Though presumably of captive origin I'm sufficiently intersted in weird hybrids to think a visit here worthwhile even though I had no idea if the birds were still present. The site is only a minute from the motorway so not much out of the way. Success was immediate - both Shelduck x Wood Duck hybrids were easy to find and very approachable.

It got better, as I realised that the drake of 3 Tufted Ducks milling around was in fact a Ferruginous Duck x Tufted Duck hybrid - and then on closer examination the two females showed strong hints of being Ferruginous Duck x Tufted Duck hybrids too. There was only one other duck on the pond, a much warier bird that looked a lot like a Yellow-billed Pintail. Not being familiar with that species but suspecting not all was right I took some photos. On checking the references there are indeed some anomalies: the ID is not yet fully resolved but my initial suspicion is Yellow-billed Pintail x Laysan Duck hybrid.

The plan was to get to bird Largo Bay during the afternoon but having left Cumbria later than expected we arrived at Largo too late - it was just about light enough to see the Eiders close in but not much else.

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Shelduck x Wood Duck hybrids, River House Restaurant, Stirling, 29th December

 

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Ferruginous Duck x Tufted Duck hybrids, River House Restaurant, Stirling, 29th December

 

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possible Yellow-billed Pintail x Laysan Duck hybrid, River House Restaurant, Stirling, 29th December

 

Saturday 28th December

Headed up to the Solway this morning for some birding which I hoped would end with the Todd's Canada Goose at Skinburness. I'd seen it there exactly a year ago but badly as the flock was flushed off by a Peregrine just after I'd located it. It was back there this winter so I hoped for better views. The first flock of Barnacle Geese I came across were at Cardurnock. That's not very far from Skinburness as the goose flies so I checked through them carefully. Nothing at first, so I moved to a different vantage point giving me a fuller view of the flock. This time I quickly located the Todd's Canada Goose at the back of the flock. It stayed at the back, often hard to see as it hid behind the Barnacles. After about an hour the whole flock took flight (not sure why) and eventually landed in a field a bit closer to the road. Although it could still be hard to find at times it was nearer the front of the flock so provided much better views this time.

I didn't see much else in north Cumbria - two flocks totalling 42 Whooper Swans near Kirkbride and Raby and a Raven at Maryport Harbour. I tried to find a Double-crested among the 380+ Cormorants at Workington but no such luck! I took the scenic route back to Keswick via Buttermere and Borrowdale, finishing the day with a singing Dipper at Grange.

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Todd's Canada Goose (with Barnacle Geese), Cardurnock, 28th December

 

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Whooper Swans, west of Kirkbride, 28th December

 

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Kestrel, Skinburness (left) and Herring Gull, Wokington (right), 28th December

 

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Dipper, Grange, 28th December

 

Friday 27th December

Today I headed up to the Lake District to visit mum and dad. I wanted to pop in to Portland on the way, to see the Brünnich's Guillemot, but in the end this didn't prove practical. Having not managed anything like an early night I didn't fancy a 2.30 am start to get there first thing and then push on up to the Lakes (my non-birding wife wasn't keen either, for some reason), and with strong winds forecast I figured there was every chance it wouldn't show as ridiculously well as it had done yesterday anyway. Let's hope it sticks around until next Wednesday, which like it will be my next opportunity...

Broomhead Reservoir near Sheffield was a bit more on-the-way. Although Two-barred Crossbills were rather less exciting than the Guillemot a flock of them would be very good to see, especially as I've been unable to connect with any good ones this winter despite it being the best year ever for them in the UK. All 7 Two-barred Crossbills (5 males and 2 females) were showing well feeding in larches on my arrival and remained on view for over an hour. Eventually a couple of them flew off, giving me my first opportunity to hear their calls - including the distinctive 'trumpeting' call. An enjoyable diversion, although I could have done without all the tweets marvelling at how well the Brünnich's Guillemot was performing down south!

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Two-barred Crossbills, Broomhead Reservoir, 27th December - fiendishly difficult to photograph as they fed high in the larches against a variably bright sky and as the branches waved around in the wind

 

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Two-barred Crossbills, Broomhead Reservoir, 27th December - eventually they came down to drink close to where we were standing, but were too quick for me to make the best of this opportunity

 

Thursday 26th December

Still keen to see the family of Pale x Dark-bellied Brent Goose hybrids that have been at Cley I decided to head up there to look for them again. A Pale-bellied had been reported there yesterday, though I didn't know if it was the parent of the hybrids or another bird. I found all of 2 Brent Geese at Cley, and half a dozen or so more flying over Salthouse, but no sign of the flocks that are normally present (normally when the marshes haven't recently been covered by salty seawater). Eventually I discovered a flock inland at the Hangs and quickly located the Pale-bellied Brent Goose among them. It didn't have any young birds associating with it though, and none of the young birds in the flock looked anything other than typical Dark-bellied.

I moved on to Edgefield where several Red Kites were around the tip but although someone had seen the Glaucous a little earlier there was no sign of that. Eddie picked up a Redshank which I missed at first - an unusual bird here I presume. I picked it up again soon after, flying low down the road as if it was trying to land - I think it must have mistaken the tarmac for water as birds sometimes do. It was closely followed by a car but eventually took evasive action and flew off again.

Finally I headed off to the patch. The Greylag flock at Hell Pit contained 2 Barnacle Geese and a Greylag x Canada hybrid. Despite knowing Dave was about to join me I didn't recognise his car coming down the road towards me, even when it stopped and started hooting manically. It was only when Dave jumped out and started yelling something hysterically that I realised it was him, and he'd seen something! I couldn't tell what he was yelling and he was too far to communicate with, but fortunately I locked on to it pretty quick - a female Hen Harrier and a new bird for the patch. It was flying towards Hell Pit and we quickly picked it up again there before it disappeared. A few minutes later it appeared again giving us another quick fly-past.

A flock of 10 Lesser Redpolls dropped in in front of us and then we headed off to Creaking Gate Lake where 2 Siskins were the highlight. Rawhall Gravel Pits held good numbers of duck - 18 Shoveler is, I think, the most I've seen at that site and 102 Mallard included an interesting intersex bird, a female that has begun to develop male characteristics.

One more Winter Moth at home tonight.

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Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Cley Hangs (left) and Hen Harrier, Hell Pit, Bittering (right), 26th December

 

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intersex female Mallard, Rawhall GPs, 26th December - note the bill which is typical of a female Mallard, proving that this is not simply a moutling male or a hybrid

 

Christmas Day, Wednesday 25th December

Happy Christmas!

After church Vitty and I headed up to Burnham Overy with a picnic lunch. Lots of others had had the same idea so it was busier than usual, but we enjoyed the walk anyway. And the picnic was nice too, especially Vitty's home-made pork pie (made with port jelly). Not many birds of note, but the Black Brant was still there and then as we headed back towards the car park I had one last look down the channel and was pleased to see a Great Northern Diver there. I've seen them offshore here before but not in the channel.

 

Great Northern Diver, Burnham Overy, 25th December

 

Tuesday 24th December

Another Winter Moth this evening.

 

Monday 23rd December

Back home today and a visit to the patch didn't bring any major surprises. Barnacle Goose among the Greylags at Hell Pit was, I think, my first for the patch, though Dave has seen them here before.

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Marsh Tit, Hell Pit, Bittering, 23rd December

 

Sunday 22nd December

A cacophony of Ring-necked Parakeets in Broadstairs with birds seen including a flock of 6.

 

Saturdsay 21st December

Headed down to Kent to see the in-laws today. A pair of Ring-necked Parakeets flew over the M25/M2 junction and more heard calling when we arrived in Broadstairs.

 

Thursday 19th December

Another Winter Moth tonight.

 

Wednesday 18th December

I'd not been able to find anything among the Pink-feet in the Stanhoe area earlier in the week but given the variety of birds seen here recently I tried again in today's lunch break. Marginally better today with 3 Barnacle Geese but I await something better...

 

Tuesday 17th December

Saw a Tawny Owl on wires near Foulsham this evening.

It's taken me a while but I finally completed the report for our trip to Spain in May recently. Here are few of the snaps you'll find there...

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Red-crested Pochard, Purple Swamphen, Slender-billed Gull, Whiskered Tern, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Red-necked Nightjar, Bee-eaters, Roller, Rock Thrushes, Black-eared Wheatear and Citril Finch, NE Spain, 17th-21st May - click here to read the full report

 

Monday 16th December

Arrived home from work to find 6 Winter Moths attracted to the porch light, the most I've ever seen at home. Later the MV light attracted a seventh Winter Moth plus my first Mottled Umber of the year.

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Winter Moth (left) and Mottled Umber (right), Bawdeswell, 16th December

 

Sunday 15th December

Headed up to Burnham Overy this morning. En route in the half-light of dawn 2 Red Kites were flying low over the road near Egmere. Burnham Overy was magical - beautiful place, beautiful weather and thousands and thousands of birds. Really enjoyed the walk though amongst all the hordes of birds I didn't manage to find anything more surprising than a Kingfisher. After that I scooted along the coast taking in the Shag in Wells harbour and a bacon bap with Rob at Cley.

One Winter Moth this evening after I got back from the carol service.

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Reed Buntings, Burnham Overy, 15th December

 

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Shag, Wells (left) and Reed Bunting, Burnham Overy (right), 15th December

 

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Moorhen (left) and Black-headed Gull (right), Salthouse, 15th December

 

Saturday 14th December

Had a look round the patch this morning but failed to find anything worth mentioning. A Dark Chestnut was the only moth tonight - I've now seen twice as many of these this year as I've ever seen in a year before.

 

Friday 13th December

Having checked the goose flock south of the Anmer crossroads earlier in the week without success I had another go in today's lunch break. The Barnacle Goose was there but I failed to find anything more interesting. 2 more Winter Moths at home this evening.

 

Thursday 12th December

2 Winter Moths in tonight.

 

Wednesday 11th December

A Many-plumed Moth Alucita hexadactyla greeted me as I walked in through the front door this eveing. Not sure if it had been on the outside of the door attracted to the porch light and came in with me or if it had arrived last night and been trying to get out. Either way an unexpected moth at this time of year - my first ever December record.

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Dunlin (left) and Redshank (right), Brancaster Staithe, 11th December

 

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Black-headed Gulls, Brancaster Staithe, 11th December

 

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Many-plumed Moth Alucita hexadactyla, Bawdeswell, 11th December

 

Sunday 8th December

A quick early morning check round the patch for the first time in a while failed to produce any surprises - a brief party of 4 Redpoll sp. at Hell Pit was the best I could muster up. In the afternoon I headed down to Lynford Arboretum for another attempt to see the wing-barred Crossbill there that's been variously identified as Two-barred Crossbill, Common Crossbill with wing-bars or a hybrid. Support for the hybrid theory seems to be growing though there are some who are convinced it's a good Two-barred. After a long wait a group of about 10 Crossbills appeared and showed nicely but alas the wing-barred bird was not among them. Well, there was a wing-barred bird among them, but the wing-bars were narrow, diffuse and off-white so there was no confusion with Two-barred from this individual. Eventually a couple of new birds joined the flock and I quickly realised one of these was the target bird, with its raspberry-pink plumage tones and broad pure white wing-bars. But it was largely obscured and no sooner had I seen it and the whole flock flew off.

Next I headed off to where I could see a distant Hawfinch only to find not one but at least 4 Hawfinches. Finally I had a quick look at Lynford Water where another group of 4 Redpoll sp. were again too brief to allow a full identification.

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Hawfinches, Lynford Arboretum, 8th December

 

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Crossbills, Lynford Arboretum, 8th December

 

Saturday 7th December

A group visit to Sculthorpe Moor this morning. The reserve was pretty quiet people-wise which was nice - it meant we had the hides to ourselves nearly all of the time. Plenty of birds to look at as usual, although nothing unexpected. Lots of Brambling, a couple of male Bullfinches and a Water Rail were the main entertainers backed up by the likes of Nuthatch, Marsh Tit, Siskins and other common species.

Once done there I headed up to the coast to see for myself some of the devastation that the storm/tidal surge had cast. I started off at Burnham Norton where the grazing marsh was completely flooded. I'd have needed a boat to have gone down the usual footpath but you could get along to the seawall along the southern path. There were some Bearded Tits along here but although there were lots of birds on the marsh I didn't find anything exceptional. With not much time before it got dark and wanting to head further along the coast I headed east along the coast road pausing at several spots to take in just how bad the damage was. I've heard several people say that it was worse than the famous floods of 1953, though with Mandela's passing stealing the headlines you'd have hardly guessed it from the media reports. It certainly looked pretty devastating - some really extraordinary scenes.

The ornamental duckpond at Blakeney quay is surrounded by a tall fence to stop the ducks getting out, but here the sea had come up above the sea wall, completely flooded the grazing marsh and the duckpond to such a depth that the ducks could swim out over the top of the fence! At its peak the water must have been several feet higher still, judging from the boats that were stranded along the top of the seawall. The hotel had evidently been flooded, though by now the waters had receded enough to be able to drive past, so long as you drive through the hotel car park - the road itself was still far from passable. Most of the ornamental wildfowl was still hanging around the area of water beneath which their "pond" should have been, but I'm not sure how well they will take to the saltwater.

I ignored the road closed signs at Cley and worked my way along the coast road to Salthouse. For most of the way the road was covered in several inches of debris - it was pretty much like driving through a field. Just about passable but it will need a lot of clearing up before the road can be properly opened. The beach roads were obviously unpassable as they were now covered by the sea. Contrary to some reports the shingle ridge hasn't completely gone, though it has in places, but it has spread out. Cley and Salthouse marshes have been flooded before - and they recovered - so perhaps the long term prognosis need not be too bad. I guess that depends on whether the funds are found to repair the shingle ridge and other sea defences.

As I drove home at dusk a Woodcock flew over the road at Swanton Novers.

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Water Rail, Sculthorpe Moor, 7th December

 

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Bramblings, Sculthorpe Moor, 7th December

 

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Bullfinches, Sculthorpe Moor, 7th December

 

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Chaffinches, Sculthorpe Moor, 7th December

 

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Greenfinches (left) and Brambling (right), Sculthorpe Moor, 7th December

 

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Bullfinch, Greenfinches, Bramblings and Chaffinch, Sculthorpe Moor, 7th December

 

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escaped Rosybills, Blakeney Collection, 7th December - seemed to be trying to get back in

 

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escaped hybrid duck (perhaps Speckled Teal x White-cheeked Pintail) (left) and Ringed Teals (right), Blakeney Collection, 7th December

 

Friday 6th December

Found a Brown-spot Flat-body Agonopterix alstromeriana in the bathroom this morning. At first I assumed it was my second record, following my first in September, but then I considered the fact that this species is normally hibernating at this time of year and that it can't have come in last night as the windows weren't open. Could it be the same individual, having snuck back in when I released it and hibernated somewhere, emerging last night as the heating was on? Or perhaps it hibernated outside the porch where I released it and came in with me when I came home? Anyway, I checked my photos of the September record and it is identical, down to asymmetric markings on each wing for which I can't find any match on other internet images of this species. Surely it is indeed the same individual recently emerged from hibernation.

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Brown-spot Flat-body Agonopterix alstromeriana, Bawdeswell, 6th December

 

Monday 2nd December

Another Grey Wagtail today in what passed as a lunch break. Also another December Moth at the porch light when I got home.

 

Sunday 1st December

No birding achieved today but a Grey Wagtail over Essex Street in Norwich.

 

Next month: January 2014

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