Wednesday 28 February 2018

20180228 Bella of Antarctica

Bella in snow.
Unfazed and maintained grip. 

Then sat down in sub-zero temperatures....?!
Please note Bella is not taken for walks on Nature Reserves and therefore has not attacked or disturbed any wildlife.

Monday 26 February 2018

20180226 Short-eared Owl NWT Holme Dunes

Short-eared Owl
2 birds roosting in snow covered dunes here.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl
Both birds circled around but failed to get them in the same shot.
CF-Tracking and BiF.......

Short-eared Owl
Underwing pattern well lit by snow reflection and showing black wing tips and white un-streaked belly.

Short-eared Owl

The depths of  winter is the best season in which to locate and observe Owl species in Britain. This has proved to be the case thanks to a very cold snap from the East with several days of snow. Being in the grip of this harsh winter weather provided a great opportunity to see many bird species laid bare by the snow including a confiding Bittern in the Glaven valley.
On the 26th February myself and a fellow conservationist had stunning views of two Short-eared Owls in the snow at the Holme Dunes Nature Reserve in the far NW corner of the county. The birds were roosting in the dunes here as they are an open country and ground dwelling species. The reflected light from the lying snow caused the birds to glow when perched on a fence line and illuminated the undersides well as they wheeled around us in flight. Short-eared Owls are most frequently seen over the Glaven Channel area on Blakeney Fresh Marsh, a favoured hunting spot. They have very long and narrow wings giving a beautifully languid and buoyant flight action and therefore also the ability to cross large expanses of sea on migration. They are often seen coming in high off the North Sea from Northern Europe then onto the Salt Marshes of the North Norfolk coast.
The sketch is of a SEO in high winds between St Marys and St Agnes, Isles of Scilly.

As a lad I was first shown Short-eared Owls in good numbers along the embankments of  Breydon Water. As with almost all ground nesting birds on their last legs as breeders Short-eared Owls attempts have now come to an end in Norfolk. But as a last gasp a pair appears to have nested at Breydon Water in 2016. Wing clapping display flight was observed in June... But the nest site reportedly seemed to be raked by a tractor before any young fledged!?
Breeding attempts are recorded from The Wash  in 1960's and 70's but have ceased simply due to  disturbance.
No article on Owls would be foolproof at this time without mention of the rare female Snowy Owl that has recently been seen also in the NW corner of the county. Realisation dawned that reports were not fake news when a photo of an unidentified big white bird was shown to staff at RSPB Titchwell, much to their surprise! A Snowy Owl as its name suggests is the most stunningly crippling of birds to behold. On the 10th March the bird duly stopped off at the Titchwell reserve to provide all with great and prolonged views.
It would also be remiss not to mention the rather interesting near albino Barn Owl currently frequenting the Cley Beach Road and Glaven Channel area. A photo of which was rushed into the Cley Visitor Centre along with the now immortal claim 'I've just seen the Snowy Owl'...

Male posing in 2inch of snow but with each squall it was getting deeper and deeper...
Colour ringed female in same area of scrub as male.
Noel Elms confirmed the bird is from a Dersingham Bog ringing scheme. 
more data to follow.

Tuesday 13 February 2018

20180213 Taiga Bean Goose Ringstead

Tundra Bean Goose  Anser fabalis rossicus
Bird with c600 Pink-foot on harvested beet field.
Size as Pink-foot, bill and head only slightly larger.
Taiga Bean Goose Anser fabalis fabalis
Bird with c600 Pink-foot on harvested beet field.
Striking orange legs and feet. Larger head and longer bill than Pinks, but is it enough?

Taiga Bean Goose
Family group of 5 birds 15th November 2016 RSPB Titchwell
Much orange on bills and long necks.

Friday 2 February 2018

20180202 Hawfinch Great Massingham Churchyard

Feeding on fruits of ancient yew in churchyard.

Bright male.
Also feeding on yew.

February 2018
The hefty Hawfinch invaded the British Isles in numbers this winter from North-Eastern Europe giving all a great chance to observe this elusive woodland species.
The influx last October continued well into November with birds settling down over the winter period usually in areas rich with Hornbeam. So the opportunity to see this large and exotic finch should not be missed this winter, before the birds return to their breeding grounds most likely in Russia.
Irruptive movements were first observed with flocks of about 10 to 45 birds moving South during visible migration watching,  'Vizz-Migging',  at Old Hunstanton in the latter half of October.
It is thought that t
his year's southwards migration from central and Eastern Europe coincided with the arrival of Storm Ophelia which headed eastwards from the Atlantic.  Strong and swirling anti-cyclonic winds pushing many of the migrating Hawfinches into the UK.  Also the  invasion could indicate a successful breeding season of the Russian population closely followed by a lack of suitable food as the passage into the British Isles occurred over quite a long period.
There is historical evidence of sporadic large scale winter influxes into Norfolk mainly during the nineteenth century but these have rarely been seen  in recent times. There is now less than 800 pairs of Hawfinch breeding in the UK, the species being in continual decline, but surprisingly the Dutch population is very healthy from which many in this invasion may belong.
Migration data on this species is very thin on the ground due to the Hawfinches wary elusiveness, arboreal habits and irregular movements. Ringers therefore have been unable to get their hands on them in significant numbers to generate reliable data. Surely a Hawfinch is sturdy enough to carry a latter day satellite tagging device? 
As ever  Lynford Arboretum  holds good numbers each winter with 17 on the 10th the birds gathering prior to  roosting in conifers here.
Mistle Thrush
2 birds also keenly feeding on Yew arils.
This bird in song from church tower
We obtained great views of the species at Great Massingham Church yard where up to 15 birds have regularly showed on Yew here. The attraction appears also due to an assault course of massive bird feeders in the large back garden next door and adjoining the Yew hedge. It should be noted that Common Yew leaves and seeds are highly poisonous to livestock and humans but obviously not to Hawfinch and Mistle Thrush which were avidly feeding on them. The pleasant and fleshy aril contains the poisonous seed  but even so we have heard tell of a Cornish bloke who to this day eats the aril spitting out the kernel and seed thus avoiding immediate death...  Two birds were also attracted to  Yew near to the Holkham Park main gate earlier this month.
Hawfinch field sketch
On Hornbeam along a Devon hedgerow.
See Gallery tab above.

Thursday 1 February 2018

20180201 Coue's Arctic Redpoll Letheringsett Ford

Coue's Arctic Redpoll

Coue's Arctic Redpoll
Note pale pink wash to lower white rump panel.
As with the Crossbill group and clines the Redpolls have similar issue as to the actual number of species within their genus.
Three distinct forms are generally acknowledged, two of which, Lesser and Mealy occur during winter here on the Norfolk Coast. It was said of this species split (and armchair ticks) that it 'surprised and delighted birders in equal measure' Vinicombe 2001. They have since be re-lumped....!? much to the lumpers delight. But this has largely been sidestepped by the British birding community who do know best.... For the purposes of this article they will be re-elevated to almost full species level... Also in common with several other finches that breed at higher latitudes in the northern hemisphere and feed chiefly on seeds, they are far more conspicuous during eruption or invasion autumns and winters when they migrate much further South. They are then found on alders and weedy margins here during the winter months.
On top of this situation are the two forms of Arctic Redpoll which are even more northern, which also occur here in harsh winters, Coues's and Hornemann's Arctic Redpolls. These surely must be split to gain full species status for consistency and yet more delight, as above.
First indications of an invasion of the Northern Redpolls this winter were good when on the 28th November I found a Mealy Redpoll at Titchwell Nature Reserve, often the carrier species for rarer Arctic Redpolls. But the hoped for increase in numbers on the alders about the visitors centre has not materialised so far this January. Since then two Coues's Arctic Redpoll have been found in a flock of about ten Mealys frequenting the Cromer golf course this January.
The Glaven valley is also hosting a very interesting flock of Redpolls this winter nearby the Letheringsett Ford. Redpolls do tend to flock and associate in winter here, helpfully for comparison for the enthusiastic, or equally unhelpfully to add confusion for the faint hearted. Having attended with interest at least four Redpoll twitches so far this winter, massive leaps of faith occur and ID confusion abounds as these flocks move about. Within the Letheringsett flock are the Southern Lessers, several Scandinavian Mealy's and at least two Coues's Arctic Redpolls feeding on the alders by the river and coming down to the weedy margins of the adjacent field.
Redpoll identification is therefore rather difficult due to clines within a given form. Caution is required for instance when separating first winter Coues's Arctic Redpoll from a rather frosty Mealy Redpoll, there being some overlap in overall appearance and specific features...