Monday, November 28, 2016

Drake Goosander

Took a lunchtime stroll to check if the Goosander found by Drew last night on UEA Broad was still present. It was. I first wasted time trying to photograph it with my phone through bins. Then my lovely wife graciously brought me my camera to work, and in the afternoon I went for seconds.
The fine-looking drake was pretty shy and kept its distance from me (but ignored dog walkers and ordinary students). It swam from one side of the lake to the other, occasionally flying short distances. The light was alright but my old camera is too slow so I screwed up the flight shots. But I guess that for 15 minutes of effort this is not too bad.
This is my second UEA Goosander. The January 2015 redhead was even more skittish. Not a rare bird in Norfolk, but always nice to see. Unique birds.




Anyone knows anything about moult of these guys? He seems to have a suspended moult?
 
Those red legs...


With friends

I'm out of here

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

It's not my tern today

Experienced my first proper dip of my short UK twitching career today. A Forster's Tern showed brilliantly over the weekend just around the corner in Suffolk / Essex, but I simply could not go. All my mates went and had a great time, that included sending me back-of-camera shots from the field. This afternoon I finally had a chance to go with Ben. We hoped for a repeat of yesterday's appearance at the Felixstowe Ferry gull roost, and there was a probable observation in the morning, so we left Norwich with mild optimism. We were joined by 4yo Toby...
It was cold and windy, and when we got there we were greeted by some grim faces. We walked the long way out to the only place where the roost is viewable from, and hoped for the best. Sadly, our hopes never materialized. Lots of gulls came in to roost, but not our tern. We waited and waited, scanned and scanned, but bugger all. I found a smart-looking 1cy Caspian Gull,1-2 heinei-type Common Gulls, a Med Gull, but I was so cold and so buggered that I couldn't bother getting record shots in the gloom from miles away.
On the way back to the Norwich we had the classic post-dip conversation. One day someone should write a book that collates all the dipping phrases: 'Can't win'em all', 'Part of the game', 'At least I found a Caspian Gull', 'Such a great site - I am really happy I got to know it' etc.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Waxwing fever

So what's my story with Waxwing? Since childhood, I wanted to see Waxwings. In Israel they're mythical rarities - a handful of records from the 1960's and 1970's, and that's it. And they're beautiful. And they're unique. And despite originating from the cold boreal forest, they feel so exotic. And they toss berries up in the air.
Since I moved to the UK this is the first proper Waxwing winter. I have seen a few this year already, but have not satisfied my appetite with them, yet. Today I got one step closer to catharsis, but I still need a really tame group in a frosty morning at eye level.
Anyway, today before work had an enjoyable hour or so with UEA ringing group mates. A flock of about 20 have settled in a park near my house for a few days now. As part of a national project, we tried to ring some today. When I arrived it was so mild they were flycatching from tree-tops and didn't care much about berries:



But later on they did come down to their favourite Rowan tree and we caught six! Fantastic birds. We had a nice selection of different ages and sexes. Those wings - wow!

Waxwing - adult male



Oooof...

Those waxy tips are just brilliant aren't they?

I didn't know that adult males have red waxy spots at the tips of tail feathers too:


Waxwing - 1cy female 

1cy female (left), 2cy+ female(right). Note difference in pattern on primaries. The adult female had suspended its primary moult - outer primary unmoulted. This is an uncommon moult pattern, but it is mentioned in Laurent Demongin's guide.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Cliff Swallow!

When I got back home yesterday afternoon from Burnham Overy, news broke of a possible Cliff Swallow at RSPB Minsmere, an hour away. Then it was confirmed. Then I was thought to go down to roost in the reserve. With me being away for the whole day, and Saturday morning football duties my chances didn't look good. But eventually I managed to get myself out very early this am for a all-or-nothing brief twitch pre-footy. I was joined by a half-dead James, and a cheerful Dougal. We got there when it was still dark. Walking though the woods of Minsmere at dark was rather mystical. We got to Bittern hide early enough to secure seats by the windows. We waited for first light, then for second light, then the sun rose and no swallow. We had a complete Minsmere experience - two or three flyby Bitterns, great views of an Otter on the ground and swimming (too dark to photo) and some calling Bearded Tits. A call from the visitor centre that the swallow had been seen over there saw about a hundred adults running down the hide stairs and across the woods, in a rather comic rat race. When we got to the martin breeding wall we were greeted by the news that the bird had just departed south and away. I glimpsed a distant hirundine silhouette but nothing identifiable. The realm of a dip was threatening. We started comforting each other how great the otter was etc. when the bird reappeared with some Barn Swallows on the meadows above the cliff. Again, all several hundreds of us scrabmled up to the meadows, and finally we got views of the bird. Phew! The small hirundine flock kept resting on the top of bare trees and bushes, offering good views. The Cliff Swallow, a 1st-winter, showed very well through the scope, and we all admired its robust structure and beautiful rufous nape. The swallows hawked some insects and generally stayed in the same are for about an hour until we had to leave. It gave some good flight views but with time pressure I had very limited success with photography.

American Cliff Swallow - 1st winter in the gloom
 


Then the sun came out:





What a great bird! It really wasn't on my radar for this time of year, especially after such a Siberian-influenced autumn. But hey, this is what makes this game so much fun. And the swallow did what it had to do and showed exceptionally well. Good to see lots of friends and friendly familiar faces, including some of London's finest.


What a year Minsmere are having! hats off to their staff for coping with such a large, rogue crowd in an admirable way.

Sand and wax

Had a highly enjoyable day out with Robin at Burnham Overy Dunes. Leaving home early and listening to the skies, and then driving north at night, it was evident that a massive fall of 'Continental' Blackbirds had happened. Big numbers along the country roads heading to BOD, and then at dawn huge numbers flying in off, and in every bush and tree. I must have seen more than 1500 Blackbirds today.



Robin's main aim was to photograph the long-staying Isabelline Wheatear I was lucky to be part of tits finding team. I tagged along and joined Robin for the first hour or so after dawn. When I was there the sandy vagrant was rather timid, surprising after being exposed to so many humans, and fed with mealworms, for almost two weeks now. It did keep its distance from us - when walking it would flush from 30-40 m. When we lay down and waited patiently it did eventually come somewhat closer but didn't really give itself up. I guess Robin's shots are better than mine - he had more success after I had left. Check his website.

 Isabelline Wheatear



After about an hour of laying on our bellies in the sand, my aching shoulder ordered me to leave Robin and start moving. I walked the dunes and down Holkham Pines for several hours. Apart for Blackbirds everywhere there were smaller numbers of Redwing, Fieldfare and Song Thrush. I had two flyover Waxwings and a flyover Lapland Bunting. There were some Crossbills in the pines, a few mobile redpoll that were probably Mealy's, some Woodcock and a few other bits and pieces, but nothing too exciting.

On the way out we spent a few minutes with the geese in the nearby field - pretty Icelandic things:

Pink-footed Geese




The sun even came out for a few seconds:


Hrot! Hrot!

Then we searched for waxwings that were seen in the Staithe. We located four punks - mostly distant and concealed, but they did a brief Hawthorn detour nearby:




Still not satisfied with my waxwing encounters - hope this winter delivers more:


I did challenge myself to see as many species as possible in the few hours of birding I had. Checked ducks, shorebirds etc. as best as I could with my bins only, still had 94 species - not too shabby.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Issy Wheatear and more

Yesterday was my birthday but I couldn't go birding. So today I cashed in on my birthday credit,  and went out with James (AKA The Driver), Dave, Phil and Will to Burnham Overy Dunes. Weather was looking good and we hoped to find Norfolk's first Sibe Accentor. But when we got there we started complaining how few birds there actually are. We had some crests in the Suedea, Robins, thrushes but really rather slow. We walked west towards Gun Hill, hoping to find yesterday's Pallas's Warbler, spread out and covered as much ground as possible. And of course as me and James walked across the crest of the dune, Dave calls, and quite nonchalantly tells us 'I have just found an Issy Wheatear'. This guy is amazing, quite a rarity magnet. We caught up with Dave and the bird very quickly, but it was really unsettled and didn't stop moving for the first half an hour or so - it must have just flown in. We got some good initial views that confirmed Dave's ID, but photography was difficult. I was really lucky to get these flight shots from a huge distance - surprising my old camera focused on the bird:

Isabelline Wheatear 

This is the original:



But as the first birders arrived, the bird settled down more or less, associating with two Northern Wheatears and performed rather well. We were gentle with it, hence the poor record shots. I think later on some photographers managed to get closer to it.




White underwing coverts, for what it's worth


This is Dave the finder - well done Dave! He asked to remain in the shadows

First birders on site

Not for the first time in the UK, I was in the scene of a big UK rarity that is a common bird in Israel. It is the first twitchable for Norfolk, so I really 'got in' and shared the excitement:

Me and The Driver

There was also a Pallas's Warbler and a Barred Warbler in the same are, but it was getting busy and we wanted to leave so didn't see them. We knew that with the growing crowd at the wheatear site, we will have all the other North Norfolk sites to ourselves. So we headed east towards Holkham Pines through the dunes, but first an obligatory visit to the rotting 12 m Fin Whale that had washed up on the beach a couple of days ago - we smelled it from a mile away. What a fascinating beast though! So sad to see it dead and dissected.




The eastern side of BO dunes was actually pretty good. More thrushes, an obliging male Mealy Redpoll, three Waxwings that flew over calling, a beautiful Shore Lark that refused to play ball, Jack Snipe and The Driver's bird of the day - GREAT WHITE EGRET ;-)
In the pines not much, heard a Yellow-browed Warbler.

 Mealy Redpoll



 Shore Lark

Great day to be out!