Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Frozen food

Sunday 24 January 2010
How long will a Heron stand in front of a frozen pond ? Well quite a long time, as this chap was stood looking at the ice from first light till 8am when he decided to leave.

 and so after a long wait off to find food elsewhere

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

It started with a Robin

17 January 2009
In pitch black the sweet song of a Robin at 06.40 heralded the start of my sponsored Birdrace, to raise funds for the school conservation area. The aim - one hundred species within forty miles of Narborough, in a day. Usual garden birds were added quickly while flasks were being filled. My driver, Sam, was readying the car, and our recorder, Emma from next door arrived with a freshly sharpened pencil. Amid the common birds in the garden a lyrical "yuk yuk yuk yuk" cried out and the first tricky customer fell to the list, Green Woodpecker, it was January and barely light !

First stop was Flitcham and the next species to fall was actually human as Sam took a tumble on the ice in her haste to see Tree Sparrow through the scope. Zillions of Pink-footed Geese in the field and a clump of Grey Partridges got some game birds out of the way. Driving on up to the coast and the first of several Barn Owls seen during the day was busy grovelling around in a ditch presumably after some unfortunate mammal. We headed for Gore Point at Thornham for a bit of a sea watch and were rewarded with the usual ducks and waders plus half a dozen Long tailed Ducks, Fulmar and somewhat of a Norfolk rarity, Shag. looking back over the fields and Sam had a large flappy bird which turned out to be a Red Kite and this was shortly followed by Buzzard and Stonechat.

Gore Point Thornham
Leaving Thornham a Sparrowhawk joined us low along the road and we clocked it at 25mph. A visit to Thornham Harbour added us another valuable species thanks to Sam's keen eyes in the form of Water Rail creeping around in the salt marsh. No sign of any Snow Buntings but a Jack Snipe was ample compensation. A Spotted Redshank joined other waders in the creek and our list as species number 73 - it was only 10.20

 Things were looking good. So on to Titchwell where most of the usual suspects fell, and a few more unusual ones including a flock of Twite on the freshmarsh, four overwintering Avocets, three Smew, two Water Pipits, Bearded Tit, Cetti's Warbler while out at sea three Red-breasted Mergansers and some Eider. We decided to try the Fen hide just in case Marsh harrier was showing, which it was, but more dramatically so was a Bittern right in front of the hide!

Bittern - taken through scope and glass of hide
A zip up to Choseley for the Corn Buntings and Yellowhammer also provided us with a Barnacle Goose among the Pink-foot flock, but sadly no sign of the Greater Snow Goose. A quick check with Emma revealed we were on ninety nine species, but more alarmingly revealed that we hadn't seen Song Thrush all day. This was rectified as we drove towards Holkham with one such bird trying to kill itself by flying into the car, it didn't and we had a hundred species on the list ! With the pressure off, but daylight fading it was Holkham Hall next, the girls expecting a cream tea, but me expecting Treecreeper and Nuthatch. Emma quickly located the latter and a Treecreeper thankfully gave itself up as well.

Final destination was Warham Greens for the dusk time roost. Four Hen Harriers came in, a Merlin and our seventh Barn Owl. The biting east wind, total of a hundred and seven species and weariness had us heading back to home. Job done as they say.
Highlight of the day for me (apart from raising nearly one hundred and fifty pounds) ? It was this.

and of course my thanks to Sam and Emma who helped make the day easy and fun.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Grey skies and slush

10 January 2010

No snow overnight as forecast and temperatures reaching the dizzy heights of one degree provided a miserable looking day. The few flurries of snow that did fall this morning were greeted with whoops of delight from Tom shouting "no school tomorrow!" - so I went out. To Saddlebow, King's Lynn,  where there had been reports of a couple of  Smew. Side roads still slippery and it certainly felt colder than a single degree.
Scoping the river from the bridge I saw three Redheads (first winter or adult female Smew) in the distance. Clearly seen here in the middle.

So time for a little creeping about. But not much as the whole flock was very flighty.

and here a good size comparison with accompanying Mallards, Black-headed Gulls and two Goldeneyes

but with a bit of zooming their characteristic shape and white sides to the neck, dark red capped appearance becomes more visible. Great to see these North European Ducks here, they always look as if they are used to very cold weather, just a pity there wasn't an adult male with them. Also present was a single male Goosander.

Back via Pentney Lakes but most of the birds down the far end as the open bit was still iced over. Lots of Wigeon, Teal and a few Cormorants, along with Egyptian Geese trying to walk on ice. Lots of Gulls but a bit distant to try sorting out a Caspian ! (thank God).
On into the village and at last some Fieldfares on the ground.

And just before Spaghetti Bolognese one final check of the ditch to flush the Snipe. The two birds have been feeding in the drainage ditch for the last few days but apart from the first pics they have always been too close, seen me and gone. This time to my surprise we both froze. It was close, in the ditch and looking at me. Very very slowly this time the camera was raised, and then the shutter sounded like a machine gun! Mr Snipe finally nailed.

and I couldn't resist a final look for the Barn Owl in the trees

not a snowball's chance in.............

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Saved by the text....

9 January 2010
A long walk round the village and up to the lakes resulted in pure disappointment. Every Bullfinch, of which there were many, was either hidden or flew off on my approach, which was heralded by jumpy Blackbirds giving alarm calls - I'm beginning to go off them. Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers were showing well and one bird drumming away, then nice views and shots of Nuthatch. Arriving at the Barn, Mr Barn Owl saw me early and disappeared. Still not to worry some nice shots of other birds. School boy error ! - realised I'd left focus on manual and all shots were useless.

So coming near home and I get a text from Emma next door to tell me the two Snipe which have been using the drainage ditch were about and flying through her garden. It's a twitch.... I quicken my pace and arrive in the garden hoping to salvage something from the last three hours. A quick check with Emma on where they last where, and into my garden to creep around the compost bins and look into the ditch.

And there was a single Snipe in the ditch, brilliant. Very dark but ok for a record shot. The second bird called behind me and both took flight to land within ten foot of me, and I mean ten foot ! I daren't move. But slowly I moved the camera round....too much to expect and they both took flight again. However they did return to the ditch so a few more snaps were possible. Having watched them it is clear that they are also feeding in a very small patch of mud, about a square foot, in the ditch at Charity Farm and this is bathed in sunshine......

I'm off out again................

Friday, 8 January 2010

a mammal tick......

8 January 2009
After a very cold night recorded at - 10 a day with broken sunshine ensued. We couldn't break the dizzy heights of Cuddesdon's near Polar temperatures but it did feel very cold, so waited till 12.30 and then had a couple of hours flexitime and went for a walk. Checked on the garden wildlife first and found the Giraffes in good spirits despite the snow.

Decided to walk through the village to the old barn and see if the Barn Owls were still present.

Looks like one of Santa's little helpers was following me. I was concerned about creeping up on the Barn Owls with the red hat bouncing away but resigned myself to assuming they wouldn't be there anyway, so it wasn't a problem.
Arrived at the barn and walked into the end section where I had seen them before. Sam shouted "they're behind you" and thought I was in a pantomime, I was !, turned round to see two Barn Owls shoot past me. They had emerged from the first bit of the Barn

They flew out over the field, seen here, and towards a tree. I fired off a couple of flight shots as one bird flew reasonably close, but the other disappeared into a hedge. Mindful of my New Years resolution I set about walking to the tree. Admittedly it was a fair way off and I could only see the tree properly through the bins, but I was undaunted. Sam and dog decided to retreat to the warmth so off I set.

Beautifully quiet and crisp snow. I was building confidence that "the picture" could be soon in my grasp. Checked the camera when halfway there, at the point the above picture was taken. ISO down as it was bright, that would give a clearer image, reasonable depth of field and exposure.........,Hmmmmm underexpose for Barn Owls was screaming in my head, but the camera wouldn't get the exposure right due to snow reflection, so bravely I tried a bracket setting with full stop compensation. Surely nothing could stop me now, just another few hundred yards. And then.... a flaming blizzard !

No sign of any Owl, in fact no sign of anything and I was beginning to wonder about the return journey with snow filled ditches. Hey ho all very exciting and disappointing. Returned home via a tantalising Treecreeper and Bullfinch. Neither stayed put. On my return I popped next door to see how Tom (blue coat) was and caught sight of him with a large snowball about to do some damage to an unsuspecting Jasmine. Though it looked as if Cadoc was about to return the compliment. I couldn't look and slunk off.

Back in the study and about to take up work again when just outside the window there was a movement in the snow covered Ivy. It was a small mammal, a mouse ? no surely not, small ears and no bulging eyes, it was a Field Vole, new for Harvestile Farm.

and as for those pesky Barn Owls, well there will be another time. In the meantime here is one of them flying off over the field. If only it had known what the next half hour would have brought it'd probably have died laughing.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Water shortage

4 January 2010
Still plenty of snow lying around in the garden and this rather angry looking Robin found it's favourite water feature, frozen.

The Dunnocks were faring much better, foraging and finding some insects in the wood piles.

and while I was having coffee, a Mistle Thrush decided to hop onto the lawn in search of food, only managed a photo through the kitchen window though. It looked cold out there so I wasn't going to open the window!

Saturday, 2 January 2010

A white New Year

2 January 2010
Two sunny mornings on the trot for the new year and while work got in the way of any walks, today held some great sightings on the way in. First this Barn Owl at Gayton. It had just caught a mouse and wolfed it down in seconds before it flew a short distance and perched.

Now the trouble with Barn Owls is this - I can't get a decent photo of them. A few good shots at Titchwell in 2008 but that aside most of my pictures are washed out. OK I know I should be underexposing as they are white birds, but time is always so short, that a quick fire out of the car window is all I usually manage.No time for checking and changing settings on the camera. If I have it all geared up for Barn Owl type birds then I never see one and something else comes along which requires standard settings...

So here is such a shot, they are meant to be ghostly, but this is ridiculous it is too pale and lacks detail. So not having made any resolutions, I now make it my resolution for 2010 to get a good shot of a Barn Owl. Watch this space.
The hedgrerows were stuffed full of Redwings, and a few Fieldfares. A rough guesstimate of about one and a half thousand Redwings in the tweny odd mile journey into work.

They are one of my favourite birds (see Blokes and Birds page 31 if you want confirmation). I would love a hide staked out in front of fruit filled fields in snowy conditions to get the best pic, but one resolution a year is enough and so it'll have to be birds hidden behind twigs in hedgerows for the time being.

and then nearing the coast thousands upon thousands of Pink-footed Geese in dozens of skeins all over the place.Not a bad commute to work and makes working over the New Year much more enjoyable/acceptable/bearable.

End of days

31 December 2009
So the last day of the year and a morning walk round the village to the lakes. A recent snowfall adding to what hadn't thawed. The garden was fairly full of the usual suspects, feeding on the berries, like this female Blackbird, while the rest were attacking the nut and seed feeders.

Out over the fields and a remarkable lack of hedgerow and field birds. A few Meadow Pipits and a Reed Bunting in one of the ditches, then looking out across the rolling snow covered fields at some distance I saw a group of huddled up shapes. Fixing them in my sights and likening them to the North Pole I set out, in a black coat against the white snow, not good field skills! Just before they flew I managed a snap.

it was a group of eleven Grey Partridges (seven seen here) presumably hiding from the local shoot.The fields held nothing much else, though the speciaes count was up to twenty two, so down to the road and a look at the Lakes

and here added another seventeen species, with over a hundred Wigeon, fifty Teal and a single Redshank, among others. Plenty of Black-headed Gulls, seen below

Coming round back to the village and I heard that plaintive little whistle of a Bullfinch, they have been getting more regular in the bushes lining Narborough Road, but are incredibly difficult to creep up on, that added to any traffic makes this my best shot yet ! No it isn't a Robin

and that was the end of 2009 for my diary