Peep Show

7am, Sunny, with rising light gradually bring out more of birds plumage features.

This is mainly notes gained from a conversation I had with RGM.

Semi P candidate that had been Ided two days ago intially picked up coming out of roost on Pats Pool then affording better views on Simmonds

Upperparts – generally pale grey and clearly in moult with remaining juvenile feathers apparent in patches, photos suggest there were more rufous tones on the lower scaps but photos suggest these are restricted to higher scaps!

Scapulars – so fieldguides (two of which we had in the hide and proved almost immediately useless!) talk about concave and convex scaps to separate Semi P from Western but what does this mean? If the centre of the scapular represent the shape of an anchor then the ‘hooks’ of the anchor are either indented (on Semi P) or curved (on Western). I’d go deeper and say Western is not completely concave with a slight undulation while Semi P is concave to the extent of uneveness  and irregularity within the sets of scapulars. Steve Gantletts photos seem to show a convex undulation. Bird was too distant to note these features in the field.

Body shape – Richard pointed out that it was very ‘egg shaped’ and didn’t have the compactness of Semi P. Rule of thumb in the States is that Western resembles a small Dunlin while Semi P a small compact Little Stint. Definitely got more of a Dunlin impression.

Supercilium. Seemed more Semi P like with a distinct notch or kink behind the eye.

Crown. Did not appear dark capped and although darker in the field than in photos crown seemed quite faded out.

Ear coverts – not overly prominent, possibly faded out in the same way the crown was.

Appeared quite long legged, with substantial ‘leg’ above the knee, did not give it a hunched squatting impression.

And finally the bill – Reference to online photos suggests that the length exceeds in the longest billed Semi P, typical Semi Ps usually having shorter bills than Little Stints. Richard noted a slight blob near the tip, I couldn’t see this. The overall impression given by the head and bill gave it quite a ‘horsey’ look similar to online photos of Western, Semi Ps look cuter.

The other bird – A lot of features suggested Semi ! No primary projection, very blunt ended, but apparently no palmations noted, but these are very difficult to pick out in the field.

29/11

So a rare bird on the patch yesterday and since i’d switched my attention to other stuff, (in ascending order the female of the species, playing The Game, Existentialism, Crow Country, funny stuff and a nine day shift) I hadn’t the foggiest it was there. To tell the truth I just enjoy manifesting my own birds and creating personal experiences on this patch, so I may have just forsaken a big twitch but well done to the people who relocated the bird in the harbour – at a guess I’m thinking a Stoddart/Joiner combo.

But obviously it snapped me out of non-birding limbo and today got out of work early and bowled along Blakeney Bank to the lookout post. Walking along the outer bank firstly noticed that the work done by the National Trust that I had got so hett up about in a previous post now looks much better than I orginally perceived it be. Recently have been told that the strimming was carried out because excess vegetation would have weakened the bank so all totally justified. Was also able to see how far the sea came up to on the big Sunday tide. The level the water came up to on Sunday on the West side of the bank (judging by all the new natural flotsam) far exceeds the level of the Freshes, had the tide breached the seawall the reedbeds and grazing marsh would have been completely swamped but the tide had in fact fallen a couple of feet short.

Plonked myself down in my usual spot and had a decent hour. Dunlin were distant and only came closer in flight, but clearly no webfoots amongst them, however two male Goosander shot along offshore and there had been a build up of Pintail in the Harbour. A little later a few clear notes from an incoming Goose caught my ear and although it was difficult to pick up high in the sky with my scope a few decent views revealed a Tundra Bean Goose and got the impression this bird had just come in off rather than being one of the birds from further along the coast.

The real highlight though was a magnificent male Marsh Harrier making its way towards the Point. It was flying into the wind, wings pinned back. It dipped up and under the shingle line, wafting along, the pale blue on the flight feathers matching the weak azure of the seasky as it broke the horizon. It then would slip back down under, suaeda silhouetted, the rich deep brown elements of the plumage merging into the subtler green woodiness of the late autumn vegetation.

27/11 Large sea swell

Extract from a Birdforum post;-

Origins and direction in play.
What I have just witnessed though while at work is the highest tides I’ve encountered since living in Blakeney. It came completely up over the road and half way up the carpark. One of the hotel rooms flooded. Was higher than than Nov ’07 although the strong Northerlies caused all the damage on that occasion. If it had been light i’m sure that there wouldn’t have been an vegetation visible from the village to the Point, just one huge lake. I’ll check the Freshes in the morning, it may have breached the seawall although I don’t think so will have certainly got onto Cley though.
http://magicseaweed.com/UK-Ireland-M…s/1/?type=wind

So pretty seismic activity around Pom. Is this the start of something big?

22/11

Out on the patch for the few time in a few days. A classically murky downtempo day. An overwhelming stillness and silence out on the marsh. The few birds that emerged out of the gloam seemed plotted against a vast emptiness. Two Stonechats sallied about along the reed fringe, male perched on a single stem gentle pulsing against its weight, a small swirl of Linnets disappearing in and out of the grey, an invisible Lapland Bunting barely giving itself away with a fleeting call, Geese cackling deep out in the marsh highlighting their distance and vagueness.

But this romanticism was broken by distinct changes breaching my daily routine. The vegetation along the inside of Blakeney Bank has been battered into submission and the entre stretch is now a uneven brillo pad of split branches and yellowing vegetation. A Weasel seemed completely perplexed by this mini-apocalypse and bounded along with us for a while in apparent total confusion. The bank has been bulldozed to such an extent that the solitary developing bush that has harboured Whinchat, Chiffchaff, Wheatear and Restart in the past has also been completely flattened. The habitat will grow back and I’m sure the National Turst has good reasons for making these alterations but right now I’m not sure I get it!

As if in a statement of protest many of the visiting Geese have moved on, there are now 15 White-fronts and 20 Barnacles and I couldn’t see ‘Limey’. We were also in search of Barn Owls and although the conditions were not ideal for hunting, there was no sign either on the Freshes or during a scan from Wiveton Bridge. They seen to be much reduced in numbers at the moment and seem to be seeing only single birds when I’m out all day. Perhaps just as there seems to have been a boom in vole numbers on the continent producing big numbers Owls, there has been a slump over here and it just illustrates the constant ebb and flow in the numbers of predatory birds, but this is one of the iconic birds of the North Coast and it is worrying to see them currently struggling.

For we are such things as dreams are made of

Two days off and two days full of contrast. Yesterday was misty and dreary until a mellow evening with a weak sun finally appearing. My Geese seem nice and settled now and hopefully will pull some other stuff in throughout the Winter, there was also a big increase in Canadas yesterday. However the day will be remembered for a classic bit of funny. I’m a bit of a bird dream connoisseur and probably had my greatest ever birding dream last yesterday. I was knackered from work and slept at a funny time and thats probably why I came up with this, but managed to get it down in writing before it all faded away

‘ I had been birding my local patch but ended up at Salthouse but there was a huge Gothic Chateau there. I was chatting with someone and there were quite a lot of birders about suddenly someone shouted out White-winged Lark, I rushed over and started scanning the walls of the Castle but got momentarily distracted by about four Kestrels but they appeared to have sealed themselves into the walls of the building and the crumbling part of the wall was like a coccoon around them but they looked amazing. I then saw another Ketrel but was directed further down to the right but was having real difficulty focussing my binoculars (currently I am using a loan pair and finding focussing difficult) Eventually I got on the autumn plumaged WWL very briefly – IDed by white  and rufous wing patches.

All the time birders were rushing in but they all looked like those old ’70’s hippy birders with flares, huge billowing manes and lots of facial hair.

It then flew and everyone rushed after it but they were all queuing in a big open field in single file packed very close together a bit like how penguins walk off to the sea. I came across a man but it was one of those real pompous learned types and he said, ‘ah yes Melanocorypha leucoptera, another unusual visitor, another one for the list’.

I tried to recognise some of the twitchers but the only one was David Lindo but he was huge like a ten foot giant. More hippy birders turned up and we were now on the top of the chateau but there was a far bit of scaffolding. I saw two Green Beeaters on the ground and wondered why noone was interested in them but realised they were actually model decoys but then they came alive turned into Carmine Beeeaters and flew off toward an area with palm trees. Finally I sat down on a bench and suddenly saw a Jack Snipe on the wall of the chateau but it was acting like a Wallcreeper. A girl who was looking for the Lark sat next to me and we commented on the Snipe I said ‘all the time i’ve been looking for it in marshes and typical habitat and I should have been looking on castle walls’

I’ve ticked off Cerulean Warbler, Purple Heron and ‘Nautilus Owl’ before but this takes some beating. In terms of interpretation its about the patch, about how its an impressive ‘structure’ but sometimes hard to infilrate, also about valuing common over rare and freedom over conformity.

Absolutely Fabalis

I remember a while back the Punks (who I now have great respect for – no Punk slating on this blog) ‘launched’ a range of clothing, mostly T-Shirts and I distinctly remember one of them having the slogan ‘Geese fuck you up’. Whether this was a wind up I don’t know but the saying has stuck in my mind ever since. I rather like Geese and couldn’t imagine how these gentle creatures could cause one to lose the plot but I may have got a inkling today.

Recently I’ve been totally focussed on finding Sibes. Imagining the buzz of clapping eyes on a nice Pallas’s has almost become an obsession and the thought of the torrent of brilliant birds being found with seeming consummate ease across the border in Suffolk has been gnawing away at me. However I’ve also been aware that there has been a massive influx of Geese into Norfolk presumably overshooting birds from Siberia which should winter in Holland. As a result we have one the biggest invasion of these birds in living memory. And in all honesty the low cut grazing marsh which i call my patch is far more suited to these beasts than sycamore loving seven striped sprites!

So with great expectation I got down to the Freshes yesterday and began to witness the spectacle, Barnacles had increased from 4 to 20, and 43 Whitefronts were new in. It got better this morning with around 65 Barnacles, 60 Whitefronts and 5 Tundra Bean Geese all mingling together with the local Brents and Canadas.

When you are thinking Geese you aren’t generally thinking about great rarity, although I’m now keeping a close eye out for Red-breasted and Lesser Whitefronts as this is probably the best time you’ll ever have to bag one with truly wild credentials. But a fascinating ID discussion and potentially rare sighting was heading my way when I joined a small crowd watching them this afternoon. One chap seemed to know his stuff and suggested that four birds – a very obvious Gander with family in tow were in fact Taiga. I haven’t seen the Buckenham birds for many years so this was a real get your eye in job. I’m also ashamed to say I had many opportunities to study Beans in depth on the recent holiday in Estonia, but my memory of these is sketchy, was probably too busy looking at White-backed Woodpeckers and caudatus Long-tailed Tits!

Anyway these birds were bigger than Pinks, more elegant than Tundra with long, slim, snake-like necks and Bewick type bills totally unlike the Pinky sized rossicus with their rounded compact heads. At one point the discussion started going down the dreaded Pallid Swift route – all characters are extremely variable and even the Dutch who ring these birds can’t tell the difference. My colleague was pretty adamant though, i’m fairly convinced but i’ll need to go back tomorrow and hopefully get them a bit closer.

What is apparent though is that this influx is unprecedented, we get rare phylosc invasions to a greater or lesser extent every year but to get these other Sibe gems arriving on such a grand scale is a rare and privileged thing indeed. So do Geese fuck you up? probably yes, but in a good way!

13/11

I dig my patch, and i’d happily get out there each and every day but sometimes a change is good thing and can refresh your birding. I’d planned to get out of dodge anyway but this decision was made even easier when out of the blue someone who I hadn’t heard from for a couple of years, Jason Moss got in contact last night and suggested a day knocking round the North coast because ‘it will be out there somewhere’. So first light and after considering a few options as to where to go, kicked off at Stiffkey wondering if the woods would give us an impression of what kind of day it would be. Initially looked like it might be a day to seek passerines as after checking an area I may well have walked straight past had I been birding on my tod, we bagged two Black Redstarts. The area they were in was typical habitat – a farmyard setting and we watched them as they flicked in amongst decaying machinery, but also more unusually they were perching in trees and at times almost seemed to be moving with the Tit flock. Perhaps then bush bashing was the order of the day but back at the car park we got onto a single Pink sized Goose flying West, it uttered a very crisp deep cackle ‘Yakyak’ or as Jason described it  ‘a Greylag in baritone’ – excellent – Tundra Bean Goose – fine record for this stretch of coast and the decision was made – this day was definitely a day intended for chasing Geese.

We didn’t have to wait long, while approaching Burnham Overy, we spotted another lot of Geese, a quick pit stop soon had us scoping a nice family party of Whitefronts with more dotted around the fields on the outskirts of Holkham marsh and in additional a couple of Peregrines sharing a recent kill. Moving on we realised this should be a day led by instinct and the next surprise after a fill up of petrol and a cursory scan of Deepdale marsh, was that maybe two of the newly fledged Spoonbill from Holklham were perhaps choosing to spend the winter in North Norfolk rather than venturing south.

To the east we could see more Geese and decided that Burnham Norton could be a good bet. The walk out to the seawall provided one of the greatest ever views either of us had ever had of Cetti’s Warbler. There was a bird in a bramble in full view, cock tailed, looking really rather exotic and paying no heed to its usual skulking reputation.

A beautiful, mild November day was now in full swing and raptors seemed to be taking full advantage, two Ringtail Hens patrolled Scolt Head while two Peregrines hit some thermals, had a little how’s your father, then headed off in different directions. A finch flock intially gave the impression of just consisting of Linnets but a closer inspection once they alighted in the saltmarsh revealed three Twite in the group, once they started zipping around again the differences became a lot more obvious.

Heading back a large amount of Skylark suddenly revealed two smaller buntings and we soon got prolonged flight views of Lapland Bunting although they never pitched down long enough to see them on the ground. Norton is a special place and it was hard to drag ourselves away, especially when we started viewing a field which seemed like a staging post for Geese going into roost. Brents were coming down then passing through quite quickly and the same applied to Whitefronts, the small groups that we saw throughout the day probably amounted to about fifty and all of them felt like they were newly arrived.

But the promise of the mass spectacle of Geese flying in to roost at Holkham was proving too much and soon we were stood on the approach to Burnham Overy watching small parties of Pinks coming in, although perhaps not the waves of birds we would have expected. For a moment we switched our attention to another Goose species and were pleased to pick out out a Pale-bellied Brent in a large Brent flock. Another birder had flushed a Long-eared Owl earlier in the morning and the thought of this emerging from one of the sallows was enough motivation to keep us out on the marsh until nightfall. Of course it was long shot but there’s a magic being out in the wilderness at this point in the day. This was heightened on the drive home by all the thrilling tales of all the birding adventures Jason had had during his time as assistant warden on Fair Isle this year.

and this was the moment he made his heroic inevitable return to form

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uhy9lnA1qo