Wednesday 9 January 2019

20190109 Pink-footed Geese Thornage and Langham

20190112 Pink-footed Goose
Field sketches of a great Pink-foot winter.
Culminating in the spectacle of 10,600 birds on the Thornage beet fields.

The massed flocks of Pink-footed  Geese are now at their highest numbers on the North Norfolk Coast and have become a major winter wildlife spectacle and success story here. This population increase has partly been fuelled by the widespread  planting of sugar beet in the region and a decline in wildfowling.

Pink-foot are rather fickle over their choices of beet fields ignoring many recently harvested fields near ones they have fed in for days. This is probably due to the aspect of the field in giving a good all round view so that the birds feel more secure. The beet fields around Thornage and Langham used this winter were ideal in this respect. On the 8th of January it became obvious from the Fakenham road that a massive gathering of Pink-foot was building in the Thornage area to the South. During  the afternoon and evening of the 9th flocks kept arriving from further inland, the count reaching 10,600 birds before they moved off to the NW to roost overnight. Over 80,000 birds now winter in the Wash and along the North Norfolk Coast a large proportion of  well over 300,000 birds in the British Isles. These are fantastic figures considering only 100 birds were recorded for  Norfolk in 1974.  A Barnacle Goose was in the Langham flock and is highly likely to be from the Greenland population being carried here within the vast Pink-foot flocks which breed there and in Iceland. Hopefully therefore a truly wild bird, and not of the large feral population resident about the North Norfolk Coast. See above, the black breasted bird .

Within the Thornage flock we found two collar ringed birds of great interest. The plastic collars were grey in colour with XCC on one and XCL the other. See above sketch of the Geese loafing in an un-harvested beet field . They were tagged in January 2018 at High Kelling as part of a Hull University project. Many thanks to the avid geese watchers in the Cley square for this data. XCC and XCL always appear together in the massed flocks and are thought to be a pair. So far this winter they have been recorded locally in the quite restricted area of Saxlingham, Cley Marshes, Langham, Blakeney Freshes and Thornage.

Hopefully they will soon be controlled either in Iceland or Greenland during this summers breeding season. The data is awaited.

20190109 Pink-foot
Part of 10,600 birds moving off NNW to the coast and roost from the Thornage beet fields.
Flocks had been arriving here from further inland all afternoon.
201901 Pink-footed Geese
Extremely leucistic bird seen here on the Lancashire mosses this winter and also in NW Norfolk.
Ref M A Golly
20190109 Partial Leucistic bird.

20190110 Pink-footed Goose.

20190112 Pink-footed Goose.
Grey collar ring XCL. 

20190112 Pink-footed Goose.
Grey collar rings XCL and XCC.
20190212 Tundra Bean Goose.
2 separated birds were within flock of 1,500 Pinkfoot nr Langham.

Tuesday 8 January 2019

20190108 Marsh Harrier roost RSPB Titchwell & NWT Cley

20190108 14 of 54 Marsh Harrier over the East Bank.
Quite a spectacle.

20190108 two ringtail Hen Harriers arrived from East and West late this evening.
Went down in Main Reedbed with over 50 Marsh.
Bittern also seen low over PRPool early evening.

Marsh Harrier
Best show so far and all watchers well pleased.
5 of a minimum of 25 birds that came in this evening.
14 birds were counted circulating and dropping over towards Church Marsh to our East. Whether these birds later arrived over the Main Reedbed and were re-counted is as yet unclear. But at one juncture just before dark there were Harriers in a holding pattern everywhere.

Marsh Harrier
Mature male arriving high and late over the roost site.
Note full crop bulge.
20180126 Marsh Harrier
5 of a roost of 22 birds NE side of Pope's Marsh.
20141217 Marsh Harrier
Circulating over Pope's Marsh

November & December 2018

This season our attention has turned to winter harrier roosts along the NN Coast. High numbers of  Marsh Harriers gathering over the main reedbed at NWT Cley have been noted early on in this winter period. A count of 21 birds on the Cley side of the East Bank and a further 6 over Popes Marsh has been achieved this month and it is hoped for a higher maximum in the harsher months of January and February. An average of 15 birds were recorded roosting in this area in 2016 including the dominant and resident pair overwintering near to their nest locations.

RSPB Titchwell has an exceptional Marsh Harrier roost developing. On the 4th of this month a maximum count of 52 birds was achieved going into Patsy's Reedbed and Church Marsh reedbed, the sky over the area being alive with birds performing a pre-roost circulation. A Raptor Roost Counting event is run here every Tuesday from 1500hrs to dark to view this spectacle and is well worth a visit. Two female Hen Harriers have joined the roost recently and make for an interesting and testing flight comparison with the Marsh Harriers before finally dropping into the reeds.
To add even more ornithological interest to this event 124 Little Egret were recorded coming to an overwinter roost in Willow Wood beside the Harrier reedbed  site. This makes for quite a surreal African scene, providing it is a clear evening and the glow of the sun is still evident in the West. Global warming at its most evident and best...?

The northern and eastern European populations of marsh Harrier are migratory, wintering from the Mediterranean south to central and southern Africa. British birds are or were partial migrants, with the majority now overwintering and numbers at winter roosts bolstered by Northern European birds. Migratory birds move south through France and Spain, on to north-west Africa and perhaps as far south as the Equator. Most of these migrants appear to be males, with many of the overwintering birds being the larger females. As recently as the mid 1990s birds began to be noted returning earlier at coastal localities such as ours in February and March. Prior to this post-breeding roosts were recorded, some in crops, but would not continue throughout the winter months. In the lean years of the 1970s with only a handful of pairs breeding in East Anglia, Marsh Harriers were rare in winter but small numbers did overwinter in the county of Norfolk mainly at the Broadland roosts. Contrast this with the now exceptionally high numbers at the same historical winter roost sites.

Roosts rarely now occur outside managed wildlife reserves, but along the coast a few remote sites are within grassy and reedy areas on salt marshes. Hen Harriers prefer these sites over reedbed locations within reserves but the salt marshes here are not protected in any form. Early morning disturbance from wildfowlers and strangely keen dog walkers being the most evident. In fact a concerning method often used to count Harriers loafing in an expanse of salt marsh is to track a dog walker way out, flushing each bird from the ground along with roosting waders and wildfowl often around a high tide. Essentially most of the marshes are private land but the protection and management of the habitat throughout the year is woefully lacking. 

20190205 Marsh Harrier
Photographed by Alan Shaw-Brown.
1st winter female, orange B7.
Ringer Phil has commented on the control:

This bird was ringed and tagged Near Belton in the east of the county on
18.07.2018 and was from a small brood of just two birds, both females.

The most striking thing about this recovery shows the total, random
dispersal of young birds away from their natal area, regardless of their
sex. Her sister was seen and photographed on the northern border between
Portugal and Spain on 07.11.2018!

20190205 Marsh Harrier
Photographed by Alan Shaw-Brown.
1st winter female, orange B7.
Note minimal buff white patches on crown and chin only.
 Overall blackish brown with a small patch in the pale crown.

Wednesday 2 January 2019