Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Weekend in Norfolk!

I didn't post any drawings over the weekend as I was away on the annual West Midland Bird Club jaunt to Norfolk, good times! We headed off very early from Birmingham and arrived at our first stop, RSPB Snettisham, by around 10ish. The weather was looking good and before we'd even left the car park we'd had Common Gull, Redwing, Fieldfare and Skylark fly over. A Kingfisher flew over our heads and off down the fishing pond as we entered the reserve, and a couple of sleepy rabbits were enjoying the sun just to one side of the path, seemingly unperturbed by our presence!

Walking down the first lagoon, the usual ubiquitous Greylags and Mallards were everywhere, plus a pair of Little Grebes, then towards the top end we noticed something else....a female Common Scoter, super-close and giving us smashing views!

Here's a dreadful record shot!
When we reached the mudflats, they were mostly covered but the tide was receding fast to reveal the vast muddy expanse. There was plenty of wader and goose action, with Brent and Pink-footed Geese, Golden and Grey Plover, Knot, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher and more. Lovely wintery vibes! Having said that, the weather was very pleasant, and we even saw a Red Admiral butterfly at one point!

Lovely mud.
In one of the hides I did some variable sketches of Wigeon:


Wigeon sketches.
I also spotted a new flower to try and ID:

It looks like Sea Campion (Silene uniflora).
Here's a couple more photos.

Grazing Greylags.
A former Greylag (I think). Check out those teeth!
The rain finally caught up with us about 10 minutes before we reached the car park, despite that I enjoyed a big flock of Long-tailed Tits in a Hawthorn bush by the path - I love how oblivious they are of people, never get tired of trying to get close to them. Although the weather had turned we decided to try our chances at a spot (whose name I've forgotten, doh) where we'd heard Barn Owl could be seen regularly, and luckily when we got there it was only drizzling very lightly, not enough to discourage the brilliant Barn Owl which we watched for some time hunting - I love owls! :o)

After that we decided to drop off quickly at Salthouse to see if we could find us some Snow Buntings. However when we arrived thoughts of Snow Buntings were quickly banished from our minds, as we bumped into some other WMBC members who were about to leave - they asked us if we were there for the Grey Phalarope. We were now! This would be a life tick for me, it was hard to contain my excitement! The light was fading fast so we sprinted (well, as much as you can sprint across thick shingle) over to the pool where the Phalarope had been loitering, and there it was, dibbling around in the water, feeding in a most distinctive fashion, fussily pecking at small insect prey on the water's surface. Brilliant! We watched it until the light became too poor to see much, and then headed on to our base for the weekend, the Cliftonville Hotel in Cromer, for dinner and an excellent night's sleep. What an awesome day!

The next morning we went to RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, where we enjoyed more great views of hunting Barn Owl over the grassland! The epic rain overnight must've prevented it from catching a meal the previous evening so it was out in the morning instead. Stonechat and Kestrel were also to be seen, and Chinese Water Deer grazing in the grass and reedbeds. We also saw a Black Swan, presumably an escapee. There were a lot of these attractive berries around, another identification to attempt:

Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) I reckon.
We watched some interesting behaviour - a Jay landed on a gate and put two acorns down on top of the gate which it had been carrying in its crop. It picked them up and put them down a few times, and rolled one around a bit. Maybe it was deciding where to cache them, or was trying to dry them off if they were slightly damp? After a while it picked them both up again and flew off. Fascinating behaviour, if anyone knows what this Jay was up to I'd be very interested to hear.

I did a couple of sketches of Shoveler at Strumpshaw:

Shoveler sketches.
After that the plan was to go to Stubb Mill at Hickling Broad to watch the Cranes and Hen Harriers fly in to roost, however unfortunately disaster struck when we broke down a short (but too long to be walkable!) distance from our destination, argh! The AA arrived on the scene quickly but the problem turned out to be fairly serious - the car was eventually towed back to Birmingham and we got a taxi back to Cromer, a bit disappointed that we'd missed out on the Cranes, but at least we were all OK - the car engine and power steering had just cut out in a quite alarming manner and if we'd been on a busier road it could have been nasty.

The weather was pretty wild the next morning, with the wind and rain rattling against the windows as we ate breakfast. Undeterred we went to Salthouse and although it had just about stopped raining the high winds made it a bit grim! 

We'd walked into the wind down to look at some of the pools, and decided to walk back along the shingle bank to look over the sea, with the wind at our backs. Out at sea a Razorbill flew past, then I spotted something high up, flying in from the sea, that was definitely not a seabird. It was an owl traveller, a roaming Short-eared Owl arriving from more northerly climes for the winter! Major excitement as I'd never seen one coming in from the sea before! It sailed over our heads and dropped down to land on the marsh, out of view behind a hummock. We started to rush over to see if we could find it again but before we got that far another WMBC member attracted our attention, he was photographing a flock of around 30 Snow Bunting on the shingle - we got a brilliant close up view for a minute or two before they flew off, flighty chaps that they are. We searched a bit more for the owl but couldn't find it, it was probably having a well-earned rest somewhere out of the wind. Pleased that our perseverance had paid off, we continued on to Titchwell.

Fortunately at Titchwell the weather was sunny and the wind much reduced. We decided to go to the beach first as high tide was just receding, however we inevitably got distracted by various bits and bobs on the way down such as Spotted Redshank and Curlew. On the beach plenty of Sanderlings were scuttling around, they are great!

Out at sea I saw a seal and a couple of Red-throated Divers but to be honest I possess neither the patience nor the kit (saving up for a decent scope!) for sustained periods of seawatching, and after a while I went for a walk down the beach, where I didn't see much of note but warmed up at least. We walked back through the reserve, stopping at the hides where we had great views of Pintail and distant Avocet, among others. I was just starting some sketches of Shelduck when Mike P had a call from Andy M (who'd gone to buy a new coat in the shop) to say a Short-eared Owl was flying around!

Unfinished Shelduck sketches!
We hot-footed it out of the hide and soon spotted the owl hunting down towards the road. However it was coming our way! It was lit from one side by the low sun so that its wings glowed, embodying its binomial name Asio flammeus. We had awesome views as it flew right past us! Unfortunately for the owl it was being bothered by Black-headed Gulls and it shortly turned back, vocalising grumpily as it did so - another treat for me having never heard a Short-eared Owl before. So we had awesome views again as it flew past us back the other way! After that we heard that there was a White-fronted Goose with Greylags on the freshwater lagoon, some patient searching from Mike P soon located the bird and we were able to enjoy good views - when seen with Greylags the differences were obvious, its smaller size and daintier build, proportionally smaller head and bill and of course the white flash above its bill. It even obligingly got out of the water so we could see a couple of dark marks on its belly. The light was starting to go by this point so we headed back to the car - on the way we stopped as we heard Bearded Tits in the reedbed, but we didn't manage to see any. However I did get a great view of a Cetti's Warbler, its white throat was very bright in the low light! A great end to an excellent birding weekend, of which the owls were definitely the highlight :o)

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