An unexpected home-coming

Dead Razorbill on Weybourne beach – clearly something is going wrong in the North Sea

We arrived back in Norfolk late on Sunday. Yesterday I was busy with transport issues, so didn’t get to do my usual duty day at Cley. I was just on my way back home, having picked Jane up from Cley, when I got a phone call from ‘Gresham Phil’ telling me about a flock of Snow Bunting on the beach, west of Weybourne carpark. We did a quick Uey, parked and walked as far as the Fisherman’s Gate. Five splendid Snow Bunting were feeding and flying around the under-cliff. Just off-shore were dozens of Guillemot & Razorbill, several Red-throated Diver & Gannet and a flock of 30 Common Scoter. Clearly, with so many maritime species close in-shore something isn’t right in the North Sea. I’ve read a number of explanations – climate, food shortages, poisoning but I don’t think anyone has yet got to the bottom of it. Anyway, quite a home-coming.

Global Bird Weekend

Black-necked Grebe on Drift reservoir this evening – a Cornish tick for me I think

We’ve been down in Cornwall for the Global Bird Weekend. Our team of seven managed to rack up a total of 92 species – in the process of which, raising £140 for international conservation. The highlights have included: Ring-necked Duck, Rosy Starling, Cattle Egret, Yellow-browed Warbler, Chough and Black-necked Grebe.

Rosy Starling – can’t remember when I last came to Cornwall in the autumn and didn’t see one!
Chough -they seem to be expanding their range
Fox chasing ducks on the edge of Drift reservoir

Helping out with WeBS

Female Stonechat – returning for the winter to Blakeney FM

This morning I gave a hand with the Cley WeBS count – recording stuff from Dauke’s hide. I was there just before it got light, though actually there was no rush since there were very few birds to count! Best birds were three Greenshank – they’ve been around for a few days – and a Kingfisher, which did several circuits of Whitwell before briefly landing (twice) on the post directly in front of the hide. A Lesser Black-backed provided some entertainment cleaning the bones of some dead thing. When I’d finished I went on to help John count on Blakeney Fresh Marsh. This was better value – loads of obliging Bearded Tits, two Stonechat and, amongst the dozen or so Common Snipe, a single Jack. Yesterday evening, a speculative visit to Felbrigg produced very little indeed – the best being two reasonably late Swallow heading south and a Grey Wagtail along the western edge of the lake. Very little else of note. Tomorrow we head off to Hayle for a full-on week of birding the Cornish valleys!

Record shot of Jack Snipe – my first this Autumn
LBBG devouring something despicable
Grey Wagtail at Felbrigg

..a really good sea-watch

Wigeon were the predominant species during yesterday’s sea-watch

Every once in a while conditions conspire to create a really good sea-watch. This happened yesterday with strong on-shore winds and heavy rain. I arrived at the shelter for day-break and for the next two hours it was non-stop action. There were some scarce / rare species reported from along the coast (I missed them all!) but it was the sheer volume of birds and their relative closeness to the shore that made for a truly memorable experience. Most of the action involved geese and ducks – well over two thousand Wigeon and nearly five hundred Brent Geese went west, accompanied by Gadwall, Pintail, Teal, Common Scoter, Eider and Red-breasted Merganser. Waders – mostly Dunlin – included Grey & Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Knot, Curlew and Avocet (again!). At times it was almost overwhelming and I certainly couldn’t have kept up with recording if it weren’t for the Seawatch App. It’s times like this that make all those early starts and no birds worth it!

Single Brent Goose leads a squadron of Cormorant, with two Avocet as ‘wing men’
A typical ‘mixed flock’ of Teal and Dunlin
There was a good variety of ducks, including Eider
and distant Red-breasted Merganser

Mid-week catch-up

Record shot of three Avocet yesterday, east past Cromer

Weather and other commitments has meant that birding time has been limited. I have managed a couple of reasonably productive sessions sea-watching – the highlight of which was three Avocet east yesterday morning. This is only my second record in the NENBC area since the Club began. Other highlights have been a good number of ducks and geese west – I missed the Whooper Swan on the beach!, both Manx & Balearic Shearwater, plenty of Red-throated Diver, a few late Sandwich Tern and an assortment of other bits and pieces. In other news, it was the first Cromer Green Spaces AGM on Tuesday night and our first Bird Club Indoor meeting in 18 months yesterday. With the weather set to be westerlies for the coming week I’m not sure they’ll be much around – looking promising for our trip to Cornwall next weekend though!

Coordinated Sea-watch & Cley

The Cromer NLP Coordinated Sea-watch Crew

Sunday was the annual NENBC Coordinated Sea-watch. We had watchpoints along the coast from Cley to Happisburgh. The main purpose of the event is to introduce members to the fun (and skills) of sea-watching and to add to our data on speeds of migrating seabirds. The prevailing weather over the previous week was not been conducive to sea-watching, and so it proved on Sunday, with flat calm conditions and a gentle off-shore breeze. We did however sea a few birds – mainly Red-throated Diver, Gannet, Sandwich Tern and a few other bits and pieces. The real goodies, seen further along the coast – Black Guillemot and Sabine’s Gull, never made it as far as NLP. Still, a really good sociable event, several useful speed checks obtained and an important opportunity to beta test the sea-watch app which is under development!* Cley ‘duty day’ yesterday was pretty quiet by recent standards – in the afternoon we were helping out with the UEA MSc students – on a ‘freshers week’ outing. Tonight it’s the first AGM of Cromer Green Spaces. It’s been a busy few days!

Best birds from the hides at Cley yesterday – three Greenshank (iPhone photo)
Group of UEA MSc students – a new twist on Freshers Week activities!


Look for this icon in the App Store & Google Store!

Consolation prize

Tawny Owl at Felbrigg yesterday – some consolation for missing the Mandarin

Following a call from ‘Gresham Phil’ yesterday I made a quick detour to Felbrigg, on our way up to Jo & Gabi’s for a pre-scheduled supper. We were actually just leaving Norwich when Phil’s call came through and then we had to wait half an hour at Roughton for petrol – we knew things were bad when we saw two police cars in the queue! By the time I’d collected my optics a couple of hours had elapsed – long enough for the three Mandarin to have gone to cover! A couple of Little Grebe, the lone Wigeon and a single Tufted were all that was of interest on the lake by early evening. Driving off from Keeper’s Cottage a large brown bird flew in front of us. I immediately thought Buzzard, but as we passed the spot I could see it was a Tawny Owl. I came to a ‘controlled stop’ and walked back with my camera. Luckily it was still sitting in the same tree. A nice bird and some consolation for missing the Mandarin.

Sticking to boundaries

Wryneck – just outside the Club boundary

Yesterday’s NENBC Walks Week event was at Felbrigg. A small group of us gathered in glorious late-September sunshine for a gentle morning stroll across the sheep pastures to the church, then down past the rough grazing to the lake, through Common Plantation, returning to the Hall via the water-meadows. Collectively we saw a respectable 40+ species – the highlight of which was undoubtably the juvenile Hobby which spent a while hunting dragonflies below the dam before heading off south. Wildfowl was thin on the ground (or water!) with the most interesting duck being a lone Wigeon on the lake. Over lunch I noted a steady movement of Common Buzzard along the Cromer Ridge – 17 in the course of a couple of hours, all heading south east. After visiting another potential wildlife conservation project in the Upper Bure catchment, with members of Felbeck Trust, Norfolk Rivers Trust and the bird club, I made the effort to try for the Wryneck at Weybourne. An encounter with a disgruntled photographer in the car-park informed me that the bird had not been seen for the past three hours – but I was there anyway so decided to give it a go. When I reached the favoured location, the brambles north of the RAF buildings, the bird was sat up on a twig. I reached for my camera and managed one shot before it flew (my camera was, of course, on the wrong setting!) I hung around for twenty minutes before the bird decided to show again. Nice but distant views in the setting sun. Weybourne Camp is a frustrating location (apart from the restricted viewing that is) as it is bisected by the Club boundary. Not for the first time, I discovered that a lovely bird was just outside the Club area – only by about 50m – but boundaries are there to be observed!