"For now we are young let us lay in the sun and count every beautiful thing we can see" Neutral Milk Hotel.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Jack at last!

My intended birding got off to a slow start, stifled by around 2 hours of IT/email problems!

By lunch I was itching even more, as watched 9 Buzzard & a Marsh Harrier over Ringstead whilst demolishing a sandwich in the back garden! I eventually made it out, into a beautiful day of wall to wall sunshine and 10 degrees! I had already decided to don my wells I try a third time for the smaller snipe of the two, especially after bumping into Dave Holman who had managed twice to see them in a similar area to Andy's. 

The pr of Stonechat were back in their usual spot! I then reached some of the smaller pools & out shot 2 Snipe well before I got to them, another pool another single Snipe. I was about halfway to the bigger pools when I flushed another Snipe. Then another zig-zag across some shallower smaller pools and typically right from under my feet, the target bird, Jack Snipe, typically silent, the small size & short bill obvious,  it flew a short distance fairly low and dropped down. Hurrah!!

I enjoyed the walk back along the shore despite seeing little else of note, the sea notably very quiet save c20 Great Crested Grebe.

I had a bit of work to do, but headed back out again around 3.30pm, it was just too nicer day! I parked up by the pools just in case I could catch up with the Water Pipit, but no sign on this one. It was still a lovely end to the day, with an orange glowing sunset, shining over 300 Lapwing, 200 Golden Plover, c300 Pink-footed Geese, Wigeon, Teal, 6 Snipe, Bar-tailed Godwit, displaying Marsh harrier.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Great to be back at Holme!

Having been away for the last week, mainly on Islay, Scotland and having read the blog & had received various messages, I was quite keen to get back to Holme/home patch! 
Unfortunately a week on a Scottish island without wifi means a lot of emails and messages to catch up with, so I faithfully hammered away at all of this on Monday, resisting the temptation to head straight out! This appeared to work to my advantage!

This morning I arrived at Thornham harbour around 8.10, the first 15 minutes were windy and quiet! But having just heard Twite up in Scotland, my ears were well 'tuned" in! The "zwinging" call alerted me to 5 Twite, as they sailed past me, I thought they were going to drop in but instead they banked and headed right out on to the salt marsh of Ragged marsh. 

A few moments later another sound overhead, a short "bugle" had me swiftly turning round and looking upwards, a line of "wild" Swans, 15 in fact. Fortunately my pod and scope were already up so I was able to swing straight on to them, my thoughts were already Bewicks, and my instincts were right 15 Bewick's Swan, they continued steadily in a North-easterly direction and very soon they were distant and gone, brilliant! There was a lot of Pipit action going on as well, with c20 Meadow Pipit, plus c12 Rock Pipit  clearly more than 10 days ago, these and Skylarks were sent skyward as a female Merlin arrived hunting skilfully and swiftly at low level. Typical the Merlin abruptly landed and I was able to get nice scope views of her, she set off twice after prey and returned to perch up twice more, great to see Merlins like this as the usual encounter is so brief. 

Offshore c500 Common Scoter were still present, I scanned through these, 4 Red-breasted Merganser flew east, then 2 smart adult Gannet flew east, another year bird for myself! The saltings held 58 Grey Plover, plus Shelduck and Brents.

Happy with my haul, I headed around to Holme reserve, I stopped off at the south end of the entrance track and after a short while 2 Tree Sparrow, eventually materialised, one showing very well sat atop the hedge. I then headed up to Gore Point with Philip, the sea was fairly quiet, save c15 Great Crested Grebe, 2 Eider, 1 Red-throated Diver flying north. Of interest to both of us was 9 Greylag Geese apparently flying in off the sea, a cause for conversation - wild birds, maybe?? Undoubtedly wild and lovely to watch were 44 Snow Bunting  just feeding on the saltings below us and two of the wintering Greenshank again on Lavendar marsh. Also Ringed Plover display flighting over the area.

A call from Gary Elton alerted me to Avocets fresh in the area during the last 2 days, Gary had 15, but I managed 9 Avocet on the NWT pools. There was also 2 Snipe, 2 Bar-tailed Godwit, c130 Golden Plover, c250 Lapwing, c200 Wigeon, c100 Curlew Teal, Shoveler all on the grazing marsh pools, that have proven so attractive this winter. The Marsh Harriers were much in evidence, 6 birds in the skies at one point. A great mornings birding!!

Monday, 24 February 2014

Monday February 24th: Bittern, Tree Sparrow and Cetti's Warbler (and some more wind)

Early morning in the harbour again today, but nothing unexpected. Fed up with the wind, I decided to take a walk along a sheltered track - lots of Seven Spot Ladybirds out in the bright sun - and then to spend an hour or two in the Downs. Nuthatch and Treecreeper were calling with many other birds but a 300+ strong mixed finch flock feeding in some game crop adjacent to the woods was a real highlight. Whilst the flock contained a small number of Chaffinches, it appeared to be split pretty evenly between Greenfinch, Linnet and Brambling - many of the latter now starting to sport their summer plumage. A quick check of the scrub at the west end of the dunes revealed a Tree Sparrow which landed in the bushes briefly before heading off west. Elsewhere, a Bittern was on show for an hour as it hunted amongst the reedmace and reeds at the edge of a small reedebed. As a female Marsh Harrier flew right over its head, it assumed the characteristic alarm posture for a few seconds. A Cetti's Warbler foraged nearby at the base of a bush in the reeds and a Water Rail also performed admirably.

Red Dead Nettle, Peddar's Way, 24th February

Dandelion, Peddar's Way, 24th February

Ivy, Peddar's Way, 24th February

Seven-spot Ladybird, Peddar's Way, 24th February

Snowdrops, Ringstead Downs, 24th February

Common Field Speedwell, Ringstead Downs, 24th February

Sweet Violet, Holme NWT, 24th February

Bittern, Holme NWT, 24th February

Hairy Bittercress, Ringstead east cliffs, 24th February 

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Wind and Waterbugs

Today was windy - way too windy to provide productive birding. After rather fruitless forays to the Harbour (Peregrine and 9 Mutes Swans west, the latter landing on Broadwater) and the village hides (Water Rail and an interesting mine/gall or fungus - later identified by Robert as a rust fungus Puccinia smyrnii), Robert and I tried our hand at some early season pond-dipping in a ditch on Redwell Marsh. Rewards were three species of water boatmen:

Notonecta glauca
Corixa punctata
Hesperocorixa linnei

and 2 freshwater snails:

Anisus vortex (Whirlpool Ramshorn)
Lymnaea peregra (Wandering Snail)

Notonecta glauca, Redwell Marsh 23rd February

Ditch-dipping, Redwell Marsh, 23rd February

Caddis sp. Redwell Marsh, 23rd February

Alexanders Rust, Puccinia smyrnii, Holme Marsh

Saturday, 22 February 2014

This afternoon + Photos

Following on from Andy's post about this morning after a spot of lunch I did a circuit of the Pines in hope that the previous days Crossbill would "chip" overhead - it didn't!  On my way round the Pines I popped into the Obs to chat to Sophie & photographed the Red-necked Grebe which was picked up dead on the 9th (2 still present offshore mid-week).  During a short sea watch I managed to grip back Harbour Porpoise & 3 Siskins called from the Pine tops.  A single Fieldfare was in the Car Park scrub.  A Peacock butterfly flew across me as I sea watched from the sand ladder as did a Bumblebee species.

Black-tailed Godwit

male Hen Harrier

Eristalis tenax - First Hoverfly of the year on Ragged Marsh.  

Red-necked Grebe

Twite !

An early morning visit to the harbour was a good move. I'd heard from a reliable source that a small group of Twite had been on the salt marsh and, keen to see them, I beat my way along the base of the sea-bank in the bright morning sun. A few small parties of Linnets flushed, together with a few Skylarks, a Reed Bunting and a surprising number of Rock Pipits - a species which has been absent for the last two weeks or more - so presumably these were birds which have wintered elsewhere and were now pushing their way northwards. A small group of nine Linnets or Linnet-like birds flew silently overhead but against the sun. I thought their silence rather odd, so I strained to follow them in my bins, convinced they were Twite. They settled about as far away from where I stood as they could and after a long wait I gave up and made my way back to the parking area. Robert had just arrived and we stood watching out across the wide, open marshes, straining our ears for bird sounds on the cold breeze. Then, without warning, nine noisy Twite buzzed right over our heads, chortling merrily as they bounded away towards the distant spot they seemed to favour out across Ragged Marsh.  Moments later, a fine Black-tailed Godwit materialised from a creek and fed at close range on the mud in front of us and within seconds, a stunning adult male Hen Harrier flew low towards us across the salt marsh from the east, over the channel and onto Ragged Marsh, which it quartered before flying back east, even closer to us and giving superb views as it passed. A short while later a Marsh Harrier flew west and I commented that this might be our last chance for a hoped-for wintering Spotted Redshank. Almost as I spoke, a Spotted Redshank's unmistakable 'tuwit' rang out over the marsh as a bird towered up and flew east. What a start to the day !

The avian riches of the rest of the day never quite compared, though Robert had a Siskin in the pines and at least three Buzzards were airborne together over the grazing marshes as 5 or more Marsh Harriers quartered the reed beds. Excitement later came in the shape of a rather large-looking Hoverfly which we chased across the salt marsh until we managed to find it settled and were able to get some photos in the hope of identifying it later. Three Peacock butterflies were on the wing.

Plants new in flower were Cherry Plum and Green Alkanet and much Common Whitlowgrass was out in the dunes. Close scrutiny of the sheltered Gorse bushes revealed about ten Gorse Shield Bugs, several Seven-Spot Ladybirds and a very fine (but yet-to-be-identified) caterpillar. A search for frog spawn drew a blank, but a pond skater (again, to be identified) on the fresh marsh and at least three Three-spined Sticklebacks in the River Hun from the wooden bridge was some compensation. The day was rounded off with a short twitch to see some Otter spraint under the Hun road bridge which Phil had found early in the day.

Mystery caterpillar on Gorse, Holme NWT, 22nd February

Gorse Shield Bug, Holme NWT, 22nd February

Cherry Plum Prunus cerasifera blossom, Holme Village, 22nd February

Mystery (small) Crane Fly, Holme Dunes, 22nd February

Sweet Violet Viola odorata, bank of the River Hun, 22nd February

Common Whitlowgrass Erophila verna, Holme Dunes, 22nd February

Sunday, 16 February 2014

With Chris and Andy away now is a real good time to find a storming patch bird but despite my best efforts today I failed.  Despite the lack of a crippling rarity as always Holme never fails to produce a good days birding.  The Water Pipit is still around and is spending most of its time between the flood in the Konik paddock and Hun Pool, the lone Golden Plover remains on North Field along with a Bar-tailed Godwit.

A crippling drake Pintail was present early morning only on Broadwater along with a drake Pochard hanging around with the Tufted Ducks. Pochard's a real Holme rarity at the moment despite high numbers at Titchwell!  11+ Little Grebes on Broadwater was an interesting sight.

At least 5 Ruff still knocking around after a mid-teens count midweek.  A male Peregrine flew west along the beach towards dusk presumably going to roost on the Cliffs.  An Arctic Skua midweek found by Gary takes the years total to 136 species.

A search of some sheltered but sunlit Gorse produces one Gorse Sheildbug.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Pale Brindled Beauty

I set the moth trap last night for the first time in 2014. I was surprised to catch anything but a single Pale Brindled Beauty was my first and apparently, the first for patch since 2011 and the first for Hunstanton parish.

Pale Brindled Beauty, Hunstanton, 11th February 2014

Monday, 10 February 2014

Calm - at last

What great weather today - just about the first this year with little or no wind at all and, until early afternoon, bright and sunny. I bumped into Phil first thing and after a brief look at the sea (perhaps 8 summer-plumaged Great Crested Grebes, 2 Red-throated Divers, a drake Eider and a single redhead Red-breasted Merganser) and around us from Gore Point (about 200 Brent Geese on the shore, 2 Greenshank on Lavender Marsh and a Barn Owl hunting over the grazing marshes) we walked along the beach from The Saltings to the Harbour mouth, noting various creatures along the way. We found:

Buccineum undatum
Sting Winkle
Ocenabra erinaceus
Blunt Gaper
Mya truncata
Horse Mussel 
Modiolus modiolus
Edible Mussel
Mytlus edulis
Thick Trough Shell
Spisula solida
Edible Periwinckle
Littorina littorea
Slipper Limpet
Crepidula formicata
Common Cockle
Cerastoderma edule
Black/Variegated Scallop
Chlamys varia
White Piddock
Barnea candida
Dog Whelk
Nucellus lapillus
American Jack-knife Clam
Ensis directus
Baltic Tellin
Macoma baltica
Pullet Carpet Shell
Tapes corrugata
Banded Carpet Shell
Tapes rhomboides
Common Oyster
Ostrea edulis


Sea Urchin
Psammechinus miliaris

plus at least 3 species of Bryozoans, yet to be identified, and a large sponge of some sort.

Far offshore were two huge rafts of Common Scoter which we estimated, very approximately, held some 5000-7000 birds - by some margin the most we've seen all winter. A closer group of about 200 birds held at least three Goldeneye and one Velvet Scoter which obliged by flying along the shore as soon as I set my scope up on the flock. As we set of back, an adult Mediterranean Gull, already attaining the black head of its it summer plumage, flew over us towards the shoreline. We returned via the track above Broadwater (noting several Winter Stalkballs) and then along the main entrance track. I suggested we checked the wet splashes and pool edges for Water Pipits and as I set the scope up Phil said 'here's one !' . To our amazement, a well-marked Water Pipit gave great views (rare here, though the birds are likely to be much less rare than the few sightings suggest) until it flew off high, in silence, out onto the grazing marshes. It was companied by 3 Pied Wagtails - an amazing tally if we ignore last night's 34 which flew west over the pools, presumably towards an unidentified roost.

New Plants in flower were Common Chickweed and Alexanders and I identified a new (though extremely abundant) moss - Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus. A Chinese Water Deer was in its favoured spot in the field by the reserve entrance mid-afternoon. 

Springy Turf-moss Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus, Holme NWT, 10th February 2014

Water Pipit, Holme NWT, 10th February 2014

Water Pipit, Holme NWT, 10th February 2014

Alexanders, Holme village, 10th February 2014

Two unidentified Bryozoans, Holme NWT, 10th February 2014

Stonechat at last!!!

Finally after hundreds of attempts Andy & I finally connected with the pair of extremely elusive Stonechats on the Golf course this afternoon but within seconds of picking them up they soon vanished and despite searching not seen again! Are these the worlds most elusive Stonechats ever?!?  The fresh marshes continue to hold a plethora of bird life and of particular note Golden Plover and Dunlin!

A walk through the Pines turned up two new Fungi year ticks - first off was the Earthstar Geastrum triplex (Collared Earthstar) and secondly and more surprisingly the MEGA rare Rabbit sh*t Nail Fungus Poronia erici!!!

We finished off the day (after a out of patch visit to Titchwell 'shroom twitching) in the village.  Walking down Bakers Carr we booted 2 maybe 3 Woodcock and remarkable considering between us we could count this years sighting of Pied Wagtail on one hand between us 30+ went to roost nearby!!!  Where on earth did they come from?!?

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Pied Wags galore!

A good mix of birds along the entrance track, c200 Curlew, c300 Golden Plover, c250 Lapwing with lots of Teal, Wigeon and a few Shoveler on the pools. We then stopped off again along the track for point blank views of a pair of Grey Partridge. We then headed for the shoreline for some seawatching but this was brief as we had c60 Snow Bunting fly along the shore. We marched off after them, eventually catching up with the flock towards Thornham point, we then had lovely views as they slowly tumbled along the dune edge towards us. After a circular walk back, we resumed our seawatching, c3500 Common Scoter were impressive in flight, if a little distant! Plenty of Great crested Grebe, plus a Kittiwake and a Goldeneye flew west, and 3-4 Red-breasted Merganser. 
We finished the day watching 4-5 Marsh Harriers and a Barn Owl hunting as the light faded. But perhaps most notable was a roost of around c25 Pied Wags, these have been hard to comedy until now on the reserve!

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Mossin' about

Robert, Phil and I spent much of today looking for mosses and liverworts in Ringstead Downs, led in our quest by friendly local bryophyte expert Julia Masson. As we are at that early stage of learning when it takes about 1000 times as long to identify a species as it does to find one, we quickly amassed enough specimens for many, many hours of work. Sat at a convenient, if decidedly ill-placed table, given the windy conditions, Julia repeatedly guided us through the key and we clocked up a modest tally of species new to each of us. We confidently identified Common Feather-moss Kindbergia praelonga and Rough-stalked Feather-moss Brachythecium rutabulum as the abundant species of both grassy and rocky areas and of the many fallen logs at the west end of the reserve. We  also found a patch of Cypress-leaved Plait-moss Hypnum cupressiforme on a log, a large patch of Forked Veilwort, Metzgeria furcata on a sycamore trunk, Bifid Crestwort Lophocolea bidentata, on the chalk cliff (this liverwort smells strongly of earth), together with Many-fruited Thyme-moss Plagiomnium affine) and what were probably Capillary Thread-moss Bryum capillare and Creeping Feather-moss Amblystegium serpens on a rock at the base of the cliff. In the arable field we identified Bird's-claw Beard-moss Barbula unguiculata whilst on the open, south-facing downs we found Yellow Feather-moss Homolothecium lutescens, Neat Feather-moss Pseudoscleropodium purum and Common Pocket-moss Fissidens taxifolius. Colour was added by numerous flowering Common Field Speedwell and by a single flower of Ground Ivy.

Robert and I then looked, successfully, for the larvae of some mining fly that lives in Stinking Hellebores and unsuccessfully (yet again) for the Stonechats on the beach. 5 Snow Bunting were mixed in with about 30 Linnets on the salt marsh.

Forked Veilwort, Metzgeria furcata on a Sycamore trunk, Ringstead Downs, 8th February 2014

Signs of Woodpecker (presumably Great-spotted) activity in the Downs, 8th February 2014

Common Field Speedwell, Ringstead Downs, 8th February 2014

Neat Feather Moss Pseudoscleropodium purum, Ringstead Downs, 8th February 2014

Common Pocket-moss Fissidens taxifolius, Ringstead Downs, 8th February 2014

Ground Ivy, Ringstead Downs, 8th February 2014

Hazel Catkins, Ringstead Downs, 8th February 2014

Following this post made by Graeme on The Lyons Den Andy & myself checked a small patch of Stinking Hellebore in Holme village and instantly found the mines of our target Phytomyza hellebori.  If only everything was that easy!

Mines of Phytomyza hellebori on Stinking Hellebore

Friday, 7 February 2014

Shank Spotted

I was guiding a group, but an early morning visit & we had one of the Short-eared Owls down to just a few metres, it was seemingly tired & hungry as it was out hunting in pretty atrocious conditions! There are at least two birds, one has a central tail feather missing & has been seen in the last week, the other is fully tailed & looks a generally better plumaged bird. There is possibly a 3rd bird as well!

We visited Thornham harbour - no sign of the Peregrines that are often hanging out here but there were several "Scandi" Rock Pipit. The familiar "tchu-it" call alerted me to a flyover Spotted Redshank, the first of the year for me on the patch & pretty thin on the ground so far this winter.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Snipe Search

Spent 2 hours this morning searching Lavendar marsh had 15 Snipe in total but couldn't find the elusive Jack! The Short-eared Owl was up briefly & the usual mix of wildfowl & shorebirds were present!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Once "bittern" twice shy!

Guiding today & Holme served up some great birding! 6 Marsh Harrier, showing off nicely in the skies some display & some nest material carrying. Kingfisher female perching beautifully in fantastic light. A great morning was capped off when a Bittern was spotted walking in a dyke just in front of the hedgerow and we had great views before it flew back off to the main reed bed, my 2nd sighting but much better than the first! See pic below.

200+ Golden Plover on grazing marsh, c80 Snow Bunting in dunes. Point blank views of both Short-eared Owl & 3 Barn Owl, with one Barn owl 6'0 away from the minibus perched at Redwell!

Peregrine & a very fast & speeding Merlin towards dusk!

Fieldfare, Redwing, Song & Mistle Thrush all together in paddocks for first time this winter.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

A warm but windy WeBS

Today was a WeBS day - warm and sunny for the most part, but with a stiff SSW wind. The roosts at the west end of the reserve held:

1655 Oystercatchers
167 Redshank
2 Curlew
3 Knot
191 Grey Plover
302 Sanderling
357 Bar-tailed Godwit
13 Turnstone
47 Ringed Plover
45 Dunlin
1 Cormorant
1 Shag
710 Herring Gulls
2 Great Black-backed Gulls.

Also on the beach were 2 Shelduck, 2 Mallard, 8 Teal and 75-80 Snow Buntings.
Close inshore were a Red-necked Grebe, 4 Great Crested Grebes, 4 Red-breasted Mergansers, 3 Long-tailed Ducks, 1 Eider, 60 Common Scoter, 2 Red-throated Divers with another west, together with a drake Goldeneye. Elsewhere during WeBS were 2 Little Egrets, 1 Greenshank, 2 Snipe, a Jack Snipe, 40 Teal, 4 Wigeon, 10 Shovelers, 2 Black-headed Gulls, and 81 Brent Geese. All the Rock Pipits seem to have moved on.

The non-avian highlight of the morning was a Peacock Butterfly on the wing on the south, sunny but windy side of the pines. No owls for me today, but several Marsh Harriers quartered the grazing marshes, though no display today.

Others had yet another Bonxie today, which flew west close inshore.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

A glorious morning, quite Mediterranean

A glorious sunny morning until lunch, then the SW wind then prevailing & clouding over. I arrived early at the GC end of the dunes, for the high tide roost & then later moved up to Gore Point.

Nice flocks of c700 Oystercatcher, also c700 Herring Gull, plus c200 Sanderling & c250 Bar-tailed Godwit. Offshore I found  2 Long-tailed Duck, c12 Goldeneye, 30 Great Crested Grebe flew south & another c25 on the sea. Around 30 Red-throated Diver offshore but mostly flying south.

Of note were c15 Eider & 3 Shag sat along the shoreline. Searching a profusion of gulls eventually paid dividends with a new year bird, smart adult Mediterranean Gull. 
I bumped into Sophe & we shared lovely views of the Short-eared Owl hunting in the forestry.

I finished off looking in the NWT hides, best numbers thus far of Gadwall, c30 out on the islands. Also c250 Lapwing, lots of Wigeon & Teal, nothing unusual amongst them.

On the way back the geese had increased to c700 Brents in the winter wheat field, but I couldn't find anything amongst them!