Wednesday 2 September 2015

Saved by a fly....

An August Bank Holiday away in Norfolk beckoned and we escaped northwards late morning on the 28th to avoid the Friday rush, except that it had already started and after a hairy M11 journey and a brief stop to see Su in Thetford we rejoined a stationary A11.  An interesting route then ensued with a fairly straight but countryfied route to Marsham (just south of Aylsham) that managed to avoid Brandon, Dereham and Norwich but did take me through Reepham where I discovered the Panther brewery.  Bottles were purchased and, as yet, remain unopened.

A quick unpack into the ‘Pod’ on Top Farm and then off up the road to the coast. Just how 12 miles takes nearly forty minutes on main roads I do not know but after a quick chat with Mike Sidwell, I headed down the track at Kelling Water Meadows for a quick look for the juvenile Red-backed Shrike
Kelling Water Meadows - Shrike on far right bramble clump - if you squint

I was seemingly quite lucky and saw it immediately but it was never close and was actively hunting for insects from the top of the bramble mounds. A Wood Sandpiper and 12 Ruff paddled around but it was otherwise very quiet and so I ambled back in the sunshine.  A scan of the pools at Cley produced very few large gulls as it was not late enough but I did hear a couple more Wood Sandpipers and find a Short-eared Owl out hawking the distant shingle ridge while a female Merlin did the same but with somewhat more alacrity!

Back at Top Farm a short walk around the meadows gave lovely views of a hunting ghostly Barn Owl and a Tawny Owl called from the trees. Clive said that they have Nightjars on the common land heath adjacent so it will certainly be worth another visit.  The local Rooks and Jackdaws headed off to roost on the woods and it was perfectly still and calm as the last pinkness of sunset was absorbed and the vivid glow of the full moon took over.

29th August :

Up fairly early for a trip up and along the coast. It was another nice late summer day and my walk at RSPB Titchwell was populated by as many holiday makers with kids, dogs, windbreaks, buckets and spades as those in birding regalia...

A Wall Brown attracted my attention early on as it tried to defend its chosen sun spot on a sign from an equally determined Common Darter. Given the missing sections of wing I suspect that the dispute had come to blows! A nice Eupeodes luniger and countless bumblebees fed on the pathside Perennial Sow Thistle and there were a few Whites and Small Tortoiseshells around.

Wall Brown

Common Darter

Eupeodes luniger

Eupeodes luniger

Thirteen Spoonbills dozed out on the marsh and among the closer waders were eight cracking juvenile Little Stints with the Dunlin flock. Such fresh, clean looking birds despite wading around in thick, gloopy mud.

Sleeping Spoonbills - what a surprise

Little Stints and a Dunlin

Blackwits, Avocets and many Ruff in all shapes and sizes were seen and an adult Med Gull was asleep with the roosting Black-heads. Down towards the sea there were the expected summer plumaged Sanderlings, Barwits and Grey Plovers and offshore Sandwich and Common Terns and a single distant Arctic Skua were seen. 

Lunch in the carpark was spent with a fine Red Admiral before we wended our way back east with a short stop for a walk at Burham Norton which was very quiet although the local young Swallows did oblige and I amused myself by studying Greenbottles and correctly identifying Neomyia cornicina (with three pairs of postsutural dorsocentral bristles and a pair of presutural acrostichal bristles!). Phil Collins (no not that one...) has a lot to answer for!

Red Admiral


Getting Ready...

Burnham Overy Staithe Windmill

Neomyia cornicina

Neomyia cornicina

After dinner I returned to Cley for a spot of Gulling and having deposited Andrea at the nice fresh beach to take some photos, I headed back to the centre carpark for some scanning. I toyed with the idea of going down to the hides but they looked full and to be honest most the gulls were not near them and the added height gave me a better view. Anyway, I put my scope straight onto a lovely second year Caspian Gull and then set about checking through the ever increasing Lesser Black-backed Gulls for something different. At least one adult Baltic Gull had been reported on previous evenings and I was looking for a ‘small’ big gull with very long dark wings and a black back to sound alarm bells.  Both graellsii and intermedius birds were present but none came close to the black-backed bird that I soon found. It also seemed to lack any white primary tips and had little white visible on the secondary edge or tertial step. It will be interesting to see if anyone has photos of these birds. It stood out like the proverbial sore thumb...

Cley from the car park at dusk.... there are a lot of gulls out there!

Barn Owls hunted the marsh and the local midges and mosquitoes made an absolute meal of my legs and arms. Vicious little gits. I could not take any more and made a dash for the beach were I too was able to take some fetching ‘sunset over Blakeney Point’ shots!

30th August:

With drizzle overnight and a hint of a north-easterly I headed up to the North coast after breakfast with the intent of finding myself something good.  I walked from Stiffkey campsite west to the wood at Warham and although it was disappointingly quiet from a migrant point of view with just a few ‘throats and Blackcaps for my troubles, it was incredibly peaceful and relaxing and I had the place almost to myself. 

The high tide was almost around my feet but there was no wind and the sounds of Curlew, Whimbrel, Greenshank and Common Sandpiper filtered through. Oystercatchers ‘kleeped’ further out and flocks of black-bellied Golden Plover flew tight formations over the saltmarsh in response to two female Merlins who were out terrorising the local Meadow Pipit population.  One perched up for a while and afforded excellent views. 

Rubbish? yes but it is a Merlin!

Little Egrets and Grey Herons stalked the shallow flooded marsh and hundreds of spooky Black-headed Gulls spun and surface picked like a mass of oversized phalaropes. I saw a splash and a Kingfisher appeared before winging east along the foreshore. Quite where it had come from I do not know but it seemed quite at home there.

Behind me there were the ubiquitous Wrens, Robins and Dunnocks in the Suaeda and small groups of Reed Buntings came up as I walked as well as three explosive Pheasants. Yellowhammers were foraging around the whirligig with Chaffinches and Greenfinches and the harvested wheat field inland contained a nice covey of 12 Grey Partridges. 

Grey Partridge

Robin's Pin Cushion

There were plenty of Bombus pascuorum and lapidarius and a few hovers most of which appeared to be Eritstalis tenax. A quick cup of coffee then a short drive to Stiffkey Fen where my walk failed to produce the 24 Spoonbills but did result in my first Clouded Yellow of the year and more bramble and stinging nettle attacks to add to my already sore blood-sucked legs!

The coast was now teaming with people and so I decided to cut my losses and head back to camp before heading out in the other direction to Winterton Dunes where after some serious guesswork I managed to locate the correct Natterjack pool and within a very short while the attendant smart male Bluethroat which performed nicely around the boggy margins. Always surprised just how chunky this species is. Two lemony Willow Warblers were keeping it company and singles of Whinchat, Stonechat and Wheatear were seen on the way back. So a nice bird in the end today but with a strengthening wind and imminent rain what would the following day hold?

A Bluethroat - by me

A better Bluethroat by Neil Hughes

An even better Bluethroat by Neil Hughes

Posing Wheatear

31st August:

Woke up to rain... good news... We had tickets for the Aylsham show and as it was just a short way up the road at Blickling Hall we arrived just before eight when the doors opened to save all that ghastly queuing.  The grass was a little slippy by the Cadets guided us in safely and parked us in the first row as the rain started to increase in intensity. Mmmm... on with the Muckboots and out with the brolly.

The next two and a bit hours can safely be described as deeply unpleasant with some of the livestock exhibitors still arriving and unloading already wet and smelly sheep and such like. Their trucks soon turned the walkways into a quagmire of slick mud and grass and the gradients were not helping. Tea and cake in the art marquee and then a quick venture into the food court where Moongazer and Woodfordes alcoholic tipples found their way into my bag before waving at the bedraggled Heavy Horses and deciding to cut my losses and leave. Seldom have I been so relieved to leave a place. As soon as I reversed up I knew that our exit was going to be interesting on the wet grass. There was no purchase and little headway was made. At least I was going vaguely downhill and after negotiating a gateway I felt like I was going to make it out just as those queuing to get in were losing traction and sliding hither and dither all over the place. I almost spoke too soon and if not for three Cadets leaping to my rescue for a final push, I would have not have made it onto the gravel road out.  That in itself was similarly testing with some spots being under water already and nice muddy slides down slopes but the proper road was eventually reached and we practically swan the rest of the way back to the Pod.   I dread to think what it became like later on as from then on the weather never really improved and the wind rose to join in the fun. I would imagine that they were still digging people and exhibitors out of there on Tuesday morning.

Chunky Boys

Norfolk Horn - pure demon Ram.....

After drying off a bit we made lunch and headed back towards Winterton in the hope that the weather would break and I could get out there and find the ground littered knee deep in redstarts, Pied Flys and Wrynecks...  the National Trust no longer have the car park at Horsey Corner so I opted for the free verge at Waxham Barns but after lunch in the car I stuck on my Drizabone and hat and headed out.

Well for about 15 minutes during which time I heard a Blue Tit and saw some Pied Wagtails on the deserted Bank Holiday Beach with a mixed party of Sanderlings and Turnstones while the sea whipped up white horses and smashed them into the breakwaters.  

Lunchtime view - thanks Mum for the M&S bisuits

Waxham Beach...
Grumpy, fed up and wet again I called it a day... and spent the rest of it hiding in the shed....


1st September:

The rain eventually seemed to let up at about ten-ish the previous evening and with blue skies and skudding clouds on ‘going home day’, I was hopeful of getting out there and finding something in the aftermath. Winterton was my choice of site and I gave the dune system there a good searching for a couple of hours during which time I saw 11 species of bird.  It was dead with not one warbler or flycatcher and only one chat – a solitary Whinchat. Just where had all the fall migrants that we would have associated with such a weather system have deposited all those autumnal goodies? A quick check of the pager and it was no surprise to find that they were all on Wanstead Flats.... (only jealous, guys!).

Ling - got a bit confused on my heathers

Cross-leaved Heather - mmm.. probably

Grayling butterflies were on the wing but very tatty but the Small Heaths and Common Blues looked pristine. 


Common Blue

Common Blue

There were plenty of bumblebees around and I had half joked with Annie that if I went there I would look for the fabled mega-fly that is Tachina grossa. It seemed a little late in the season and with the appalling weather I thought the chance of one hanging on to be slim but then suddenly there it was in front of me, bimbling past my nose like some oversized spherical flying back pincushion. I pursued this plump lady as she bounced around the heather and I eventually managed a shaky shot. It was all quite exciting to be honest and after several good views of those oddly spaced eyes, golden Elizabethan ruff and medieval mace-like spikes adorning the shiny black body, she took to the air once more and thrummed off into the distance.

Tachina - it makes me happy :O)
After a big fat cream tea it was time to move south...

The rest of the journey home contained:
  • Great Yarmouth AND Lowestoft Traffic System Rage (sorry I did not call in, Antony)
  • Dunwich Fish ‘n’ Chip Rage (‘You want £9.95 for cod and chips... EACH??!!’)
  • Thorpeness Anti-Wryneck Torrential Rain Rage
  • Momentary Aldeburgh Fish ‘n’ Chips Pleasure 
  • and Abberton ‘oh it just flew off ‘ Osprey Rage....
Admittedly Abberton was actually quite pleasant in the rain with a nice Great White Egret on the basin wall and at least 700 or so Sand Martin out over the water hawking with a few Swallows. They would frequently land in the willow bed just offshore with Pied and Yellow Wagtails for company. A fine Grey Heron fished the shallows but to be honest was pants at his job and a juvenile Common Tern was faring better at catching fry just a few yards away.

Great White Egret chatting up a post...

Sand Martins

Yellow Wagtail

Grey Heron in the rain

Sometimes you just have to realise that things are not going to go your way and so the final push for home was made with the only saving grace being not getting stuck on the QEII Bridge at 5pm!

Oh well...

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