December 2014

 

Wednesday 31st December

2014 finished with this Mottled Umber, and if you're one of those who come here looking for birding tales and not moths, then a reminder that from 2015 I will be updating two diaries, one primarily for birding and the other primarily for moths. I might mention major highlights of either one in the other but I promise not to fill up the birding diary with lots of moths (or vice versa)!

You will be able to find them here:

Birding diary: www.gobirdingeu-birding.blogspot.co.uk

Mothing diary: www.gobirdingeu-mothing.blogspot.co.uk

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Mottled Umber, North Elmham, 31st December

 

Monday 29th December

My first visit to Burnham Overy for some time, and enjoyable as always. As I stood on the seawall not far from the staithe I suddenly heard a noise that sounded like something bursting from cover just behind me. I turned round to see it but it had flown the other way and by the time I saw it it was half way across the field - a nice Woodcock. The goose flocks contained 2 Barnacle Geese and at least half a dozen White-fronted Geese and in the channel were 4 Goldeneye and 6 Red-breasted Mergansers.

As I watched from Gun Hill a female Merlin sped by along the beach but there didn't seem to be much happening offshore. From the east end of the dunes I could see a Velvet Scoter and, looking towards Holkham, at least 36 White-fronted Geese. A flock of 50 Fieldfare flew on to the marsh but the Rough-legged Buzzard provided nothing more than a possible perched view. I couldn't get enough on it from the angle I seeing it and then it dropped out of sight while I'd taken my eye off it. As I returned back along the sea wall a nice Short-eared Owl spent some time hunting along the margins of the fields giving good views.

On the way home I passed a flock of Pink-feet south of Brancaster in which several Tundra Bean Geese had been reported, but with no safe place to stop and view from the car I continued to find another flock along the turning to Burnham Market. Among these 2 Tundra Bean Geese were quickly located but careful searching didn't reveal anything else. On to another flock further down the same road towards Burnham Market and one of the closest birds was another Tundra Bean Goose.

Before going home I stopped off at the patch where I could find nothing better than 50 Gadwall at Creaking Gate Lake and 80 Fieldfare at Rawhall Gravel Pits.

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Merlin, Burnham Overy (left) and Tundra Bean Goose, west of Burnham Market (right), 29th December

 

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Buzzard, west of Burnham Market, 29th December

 

Sunday 28th December

Heard a flock of Pink-footed Geese when I got up this morning.

 

Saturday 27th December

I looked out of the window this morning to see two new birds for the house. A flock of finches in the Birch proved to be 5 Lesser Redpolls and while I was watching them a belated house-tick Great Spotted Woodpecker moved through the same tree. I didn't expect any moths tonight with it being so cold so was surprised to find a Winter Moth in the bottom when I went through the trap in the morning.

 

Friday 26th December

Spent Christmas in the Lakes with my parents and headed back down to Norfolk today, stopping off at Martin Mere on the way. Enjoyed the collection but the wild birds didn't produce much of real interest - Grey Wagtail flew over, Kingfisher and 2 Treecreepers heard and of course lots of Pintail, Pink-footed Geese and Whooper Swans. Vitty wanted to see the Antony Gormley "Another Place" sculpture at Crosby Beach. I had suggested she check the tide times, but when we got there it looked like only the tops of some heads were visible above the water. Further down it ws possible to see a bit more but as it was starting to get dark we weren't going to see them properly and headed back ahead of the snow.

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captive Buffleheads, Martin Mere, 26th December

 

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captive Blue-winged Teal (left) and captive Redhead (right), Martin Mere, 26th December

 

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captive Scaup, Martin Mere, 26th December

 

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captive Falcated Ducks, Martin Mere, 26th December

 

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captive Baikal Teals, Martin Mere, 26th December

 

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captive American Wigeon, Martin Mere, 26th December

 

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captive Mandarins, Martin Mere, 26th December

 

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captive White-headed Duck (left) and captive Wood Duck (right), Martin Mere, 26th December

 

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captive Red-breasted Goose (left) and captive Black Brant (right), Martin Mere, 26th December

 

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captive first-winter Black Swan (left) and captive Lesser White-fronted Goose (right), Martin Mere, 26th December

 

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"Another Place", sculpture by Antony Gormley, Crosby Beach, 26th December - I suspect the Christmas hat and cardigan may not have been part of Antony Gormley's creation...

 

Saturday 20th December

Headed down to Broadstairs to see the in-laws this weekend. On the way stopped off at Sevenoaks where the White Ibis was performing. Whether it came from North America or a collection in Holland or elsewhere in Europe is unknown, but the latter seems most likely despite it being unringed and a juvenile. Also here a Weasel crossed our path and a Grey Wagtail flew over. In Broadstairs 7 Ring-necked Parakeets flew over.

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White Ibis, Sevenoaks, 20th December

 

Thursday 18th December

A day off to do Christmas shopping was better employed birding at the coast. I went to Cley and Salthouse, primarily in order to see the hybrid Brent Goose family. With so much variation within both Dark-bellied and Pale-bellied Brent Geese, identifying hybrids is fraught with difficulty. However when intermediate-looking young birds are accompanied by an adult Dark-bellied and an adult Pale-bellied Brent Goose and they're behaving as a family party, then that brings the potential to solve the ID challenge into the realms of possibility. Such events are surprisingly rare - James had never witnessed it until last winter and he has probably spent more time looking out for such events than anyone, and over a good number of years. I missed last winter's family and so far I hadn't been able to find this year's either, so today I set out to put that right.

I started at Cley where the Black Brant was along the beach road. I found James watching a flock between Cley and Salthouse, but there was nothing of note among these birds until we eventually picked out a rather drab Pale-bellied Brent Goose (maybe the bird I saw at Salthouse the other day?). He'd seen the hybrid family opposite the Dun Cow yesterday evening and had seen there was a smaller flock there earlier this morning, so after a chat I headed off that way. No geese here at all, but I found a more distant group looking east from the beach road at Salthouse. Here was a Pale-bellied Brent Goose and now I had the challenge of working out which of the many young Brent Geese around it, if any, were its offspring. I had to watch it for a while to be sure, but there were three juveniles that did seem to linked to it, as well as with a single Dark-bellied Brent Goose. Although I could have easily overlooked two of them as being pale juvenile Dark-bellied Brent Geese, the third was more like a dark juvenile Pale-bellied Brent Goose. James had said that this winter's youngsters were more Pale-bellied-like than last winter's but to be honest these - or at least two of them - weren't as obvious to me as I'd imagined them might be. However the combination of their appearance and their behaviour in relation to the adult Pale-bellied Brent Goose (and an adult Dark-bellied Brent Goose) I feel sure that they were indeed the Pale-bellied x Dark-bellied Brent Goose hybrids.

Keeping track of them was really tough, especially as they often wandered a fair way from the adult Pale-bellied (I think they were keeping closer to the Dark-bellied parent, though that was hard to be sure as there were so many adult Dark-bellied Brents around). Once I had watched them enough to be confident about what I was seeing I turned to trying to photograph them. Almost immediately the flock took flight; they came back down but photographing them was difficult, not just because of the distance but because you need to watch them for a prolonged period to be sure which birds are which, and that's not possible looking down a viewfinder. Interestingly the hybrids look most obvious in the flight shots where they appear rather pale at the bottom of the belly, but the shots I got of what I'm pretty sure were the right birds after they came back down are somewhat less impressive.

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Black Brant, Cley, 18th December

 

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Pale-bellied Brent Goose with 3 hybrid x Dark-bellied Brent Goose young (with Dark-bellied Brent Geese), Salthouse, 18th December (the larger version you can see by clicking on these is annotated to show which birds I believe are the hybrids)

 

Wednesday 17th December

A mild night produced lots of moths for some people but just 2 for me: another Mottled Umber and a Chestnut.

 

Sunday 14th December

A Mottled Umber was my first moth in a while.

 

Tuesday 9th December

On a course in London this week so no birding or mothing. However exciting news received today about a discovery last month...

Towards the end of my recent visit to Cornwall conditions were ideal for migrant moths arriving, with a southerly airstream coming from Iberia. However the wind was so strong and the garden of the cottage was so exposed that conditions were far from idea for catching moths. On the last night there were just 5 species of moth, 3 of which were migrant species. At the bottom of the trap was a bug. Not a very interesting looking bug, but as I'm trying to branch out a bit and now have access to (a) the nice new insect book by Paul Brock, (b) the excellent online resource www.britishbugs.org.uk and (c) a microscope allowing me to see finer detail, I thought I'd retain it to see if I could identify it when I got home. I tried, and managed to identify it as one of the Damsel Bugs Nabis sp. I couldn't get any further though. The problem was that there were several species, two of which are very common, and it didn't quite fit either of the common ones. Most features seemed to match one of the common species but the wings were far too long. Apparently it does have a long-winged form, but that form is meant to be really rare. So it seemed like it was either a rare form of something common, or something uncommon. Or maybe, given my inexperience with bugs, I'd just messed up and it was something else common.

If it wasn't for the conditions I might have left it at that, but what if it was a migrant like the moths? Maybe it had arrived from Iberia? I shouldn't think there are many people recording migrant bugs, so if that's the case it might even be something really good. Probably not, but I thought it worth getting in touch with Tristan Bantock from www.britishbugs.org.uk. He agreed it looked unusual and asked me to send it to him, which I did. Unfortunately it proved to be a female which meant he couldn't determine it straight away, but he said he'd check it against specimens next time he was at the Natural History Museum - still suspecting it would turn out to be an unusual example of a common species (or at least managing my expectations so as not to get my hopes up!).

Well yesterday he visited the museum and today he dropped me a line with the amazing news: "It is quite unmistakeably Nabis capsiformis, a species which has not been previously recorded in Britain." Wow, I found a first for Britain! Apparently its a known migrant species that normally occurs in Iberia, southern France and Italy, so my suspicions that it might have come up from Iberia were probably right! Here it is:

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Nabis capsiformis, Porthgwarra, 21st November - the FIRST FOR BRITAIN, its identity just confirmed

 

Saturday 6th December

A group visit to Sculthorpe Moor today produced lots of common birds like Nuthatches, Bullfinches and Marsh Tits. Stoat and Bank Vole offered some mammalian interest. While most of the group headed back to the centre early to warm up two of us headed down to the river in the hope of finding something a bit more interesting. No luck, but on the way back to the centre we did get nice views of a Water Rail below the feeders.

Last winter a Pale-bellied Brent Goose x Dark-bellied Brent Goose pair with hybrid offspring were seen in the Cley area. I made several attempts to see them but without success. This winter another (or perhaps the same) pair has turned up, again with hybrid offspring. So after leaving Sculthorpe I headed up to Salthouse in the hope of seeing them. The Black Brant stuck out like a sore thumb but a Pale-bellied Brent Goose was much less obvious, being a particularly drab individual. However it was not accompanied by any young, so this was not the one I was looking for. Mind you, it was sufficiently indistinct to make me wonder if it might itself be a hybrid, perhaps one of last year's young. Hard to be sure about that as it was probably within range for a pure Pale-bellied, though I did notice a second Dark-bellied Brent Goose that seemed to be with it which was at the palest-bellied end of variation for Dark-bellied. Maybe they were sibling hybrids?

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Nuthatch, Sculthorpe Moor, 6th December

 

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Water Rail (left) and Bullfinch (right), Sculthorpe Moor, 6th December

 

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leucistic Blackbird, Sculthorpe Moor, 6th December

 

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Black Brant, Salthouse, 6th December

 

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Pale-bellied Brent Goose (with Dark-bellied Brent Geese), Salthouse, 6th December - or possibly a hybrid, and the bird that's behind and left of the Pale-bellied when taking off and behind it in the flight shot is presumed to be a pale Dark-bellied, but is perhaps also a hybrid?

 

Wednesday 3rd December

Headed up to Choseley in today's lunchbreak where the Lesser Snow Goose was easy enough to pick out. Among the closest group of birds were 2 Tundra Bean Geese. After having my fill of these I headed back to Bircham where I found 1 James McC and 2 Barnacle Geese.

The moths haven't quite finished yet for the winter - tonight there was Beautiful Plume Amblyptilia acanthadactyla, Feathered Thorn and Mottled Umber.

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Lesser Snow Goose, Choseley, 3rd December

 

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Tundra Bean Geese, Choseley, 3rd December

 

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Mottled Umber, North Elmham, 3rd December

 

Tuesday 2nd December

Eventually found a decent-sized flock of Pink-feet in my lunchbreak, ironically very close to work after I'd driven miles looking for them. Among them was a Pale-bellied Brent Goose and a party of 4 Greylag Geese, probably Icelandic birds.

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Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Bircham, 2nd December

 

Monday 1st December

A Chestnut was the only moth in the trap tonight but a Minotaur Beetle was a first for me.

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Common Earwig, North Elmham, 1st December

 

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Minotaur Beetle, North Elmham, 1st December

 

 

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