Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Axe Estuary

Last Thursday (24th) I went to my first DBWPS meeting of the year at Seaton. We met up by the bridge & went in search of the Black Redstart that's been frequenting the yacht club & front. It wasn't long before it was sighted & we all had a good look as it hopped along the drives & walls of the houses along the front. Out to sea was a Red-throated Diver which spent most of its time under water.

We then walked up the estuary to Coronation Corner. We were quite a large group so it was pretty cosy!
Playing sardines on the platform; David & Wally formed a breakaway group!
We added quite a few birds to the list including Black & Bar-tailed Godwits, Dunlin, a Ringed Plover, Lesser & Great Black-backed Gulls & Common Gull.

Then lunch in the car park at Black Hole Marsh before visiting the Tower Hide, where we added a rather nice Med Gull to the list. As a couple of us lagging behind passed the viewing platform near the field studies centre, a wader flew off which we managed to identify it as a Green Sandpiper. We all had a better look on the way back when we found it lurking in the far corner.

Snowy hills from the Tower Hide
Work was in full swing by the field studies centre where they're building a new & rather impressive looking Sand Martin & bat wall. We were also impressed by the new artwork inside the centre.

Sand Martin/ bat wall under construction
Admiring some of the art work
A slightly smaller group of us continued on to the hide at Colyford Common, where we added Greylag Goose to the list. It wasn't until later when I read some of the local blogs that I discovered that this is actually quite a good bird for the Axe. We also added Rock Pipit, Stonechat & Golden Plover to the list.

It was all a bit boggy & slippery underfoot. This was evidenced by Ian who ended up head first in a ditch! Luckily he was uninjured, as were his optics....although he did have a soggy bottom!

 Bob helps Ian out of the ditch whilst Jonathan takes care of the scope
In the car park as we were getting ready to leave we saw an impressive flock of about 1000 Golden Plover flying above the estuary. A good way to end the day.

As usual, it had been an enjoyable trip. I ended up with 50 species on my list, and I missed a few, including a Peregrine & a Sparrowhawk.

Last year this was my inaugural trip with the Devon Birders Group. It's useful to visit new places with people who know the area...I'm sure there were quite a few birds on my 2012 list that wouldn't have been there  if I hadn't joined up.  And, more importantly, the trips are always a good day out with a very friendly bunch!

Saturday, 26 January 2013


I had 11 fantastic days visiting my friend Mary in Switzerland from 11th Jan. As I'm still de-toxing after my 2012 Year List race, I only had one bird on my wish list.....a Wallcreeper. I've tried for one several times before in Switzerland & the Pyrenees, but never managed to find one.

After lunch on 16th we set off to Burgdorf (North East of Berne), where a Wallcreeper often visits the cliffs during the winter. We spent 2 hours standing in freezing temperatures checking out the 3 cliff faces beside the river. As the light was starting to go, I was scanning with the scope when I finally came across a Wallcreeper & shouted to Mary who had wandered off to get a different view of the cliff. When she didn't appear & I couldn't hear the sound of running feet, I looked up to see her sauntering back towards me....she thought I was kidding. My frantic waving & shouting finally resulted in some speedy movement (well as fast as you can run on ice) & luckily the Wallcreeper was still there. It was amazing to watch  it flutter across the cliff face, looking very moth-like as it flashed its red wing patches. It hung about just long enough for Mary to digiscope a photo, before disappearing into a small hole for the night. To say we were pleased would be my first gross understatement of the year. We celebrated, & defrosted, over an alcoholic coffee in a local bar.

Wallcreeper hunting at the Burgdorf cliffs
The elusive Wallcreeper....
We only had one other specific birding trip, to Biel (North West of Berne). The area has 6 species of Woodpeckers, including Grey-headed & Middle Spotted. We had a very nice walk, but didn't find a Woodpecker of any variety.

We did see a few good birds on a walking trip to Diemtigtal (South of Berne). We found a few Alpine Chough in the village of Oey, although it was a shame that we hadn't arrived 20 minutes earlier when about 30 of them had been tucking into seed put out by an elderly local resident. We then came across a mixed flock of Willow & Marsh Tits. After a year of listening out for a Willow Tit, it was nice to finally hear one, all be it in the wrong year & wrong country! We actually got pretty good views of both of them, the most noticeable difference being the more definite white cheek of the Willow Tit. The only other notable birds were an unexpected Nutcracker (Mary thought we were too low to find one) & a Crested Tit.

Alpine Chough
Marsh Tit...unfortunately I didn't manage to capture a Willow or Crested Tit
We tried a spot of snow-shoeing, which even Mary had never tried before. It was an excellent way to explore the mountains. We followed signed snow-shoe routes, which took us to areas of pristine forest, well away from the beaten track & other people. The views were stunning & the silence golden..... I would thoroughly recommend it.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

A Race to the Finish

An update on the end of 2012....

We spent 4 days in Norfolk between Christmas & New Year, in a last minute attempt to add a few more birds to The List.

I started out on 28th at Cley whilst Simon went off to the motorcycle museum in North Walsham. I walked all the way around the reserve; rain was threatening but luckily it only materialised towards the end of the day. I was excited when I found 8 Pink-footed Geese in a field opposite the reserve, but that was my only new species.

Looking West along the beach at Cley
Simon came back whilst there was still some light so we nipped up the coast to Kelling for the Richardson's Canada Goose. On the way we came across a Sacred Ibis - I wonder if it's the same one we saw from Muriel in July. I walked in with a local couple & we found the Richardson's in with a small flock of ordinary Canada Geese.

The Pink-footed Geese & the Richardson's Canada Goose put my Year List on 222, the same as Dom.

On the 29th we headed back to the North coast, firstly to Lady Ann's Drive in Holkham for the Black Brant. I couldn't find it but the thousands of Pink-footed Geese were quite a spectacle. Simon then dropped me off at Titchwell for the day, which started well with a Waxwing in the car park. I headed straight down to the beach whilst the weather was dry hoping to find Twite, as a flock has been seen a few times recently, but no joy.
Looking East along the beach at Titchwell
I then headed back to the Island Hide where a Yellow-legged Gull had been seen.  After a short while a gull landed between a Herring Gull & a Lesser Black-backed Gull that was a shade of grey between the two, and when it kindly had a scratch it revealed its yellow legs. So, I added Yellow-legged Gull to the list. Simon returned and we headed back to Holkham for another crack at the Black Brant. I found a possible candidate but needed a second opinion. Simon examined the Collins Bird Guide, coming out in the wind & rain for a look. The goose kept vanishing but Simon managed to get a better look than I had. He confirmed my suspicion, so it went on the list.

That put my List on 224, two ahead of Dom.

And so to the 30th, the penultimate day. We headed East to Buckenham Marsh in search of Taiga Bean Geese that would put me equal on sub-species, the tie-breaker. There was another Waxwing in the car park but no Bean Geese on the marsh, so we tried the nearby Cantley Marsh. I found a large flock of White-fronted Geese, but no Beans. Off to Hickling Broad to look for the Common Cranes which live in the area & generally roost there. Simon dropped me off & headed off to do his own thing. I walked around the reserve before heading to the winter raptor viewpoint just up the road at Stubbs Mill to wait for the cranes.
Hickling Broad

Raptor viewpoint

Stubbs Mill from the viewpoint
The raised platform gave excellent views across the marsh towards Horsey. A Barn Owl flew around the platform fairly close giving fabulous views, but the most impressive site was the harrier roost. I counted 26 Marsh Harriers, with 12 in the scope at one time! There were also at least 2 Hen Harriers, a beautiful male & a ring-tail. It was amazing to see. One of the other chaps counted 32 Marsh Harriers, and according to the reserve website, there can be up to 100! Although the cranes failed to materialise, I'm really glad I went and hope to go back again some time.

It was dark by the time I got back to the car park. I'd had a memorable day but was still a bit disappointed at finding no new birds for the List. To make things worse, when we got home I discovered that Dom had made a mammoth trip to Norfolk & hoovered up 5 species, putting him on 227!  He was 3 species & a sub-species ahead with one day left!

I decided I'd give it my best shot...

On 31st we headed back East to have another look for the Cranes. Chatting to locals at the raptor viewpoint, I'd discovered that they sometimes feed during the day in the fields along the coast road to Horsey.  As soon as we got there Simon pulled into a gateway so that I could scan the fields, and the heavens opened.  I commented that luck was obviously not with us.  Wrong!  There, at the back of the field in front of our van were 4 Common Cranes! I'd allotted two hrs to search for them and it had taken two minutes!

Next stop was The Mound at Waveney Forest, the viewpoint to look for the Rough-legged Buzzard over Haddiscoe Marsh. I'd found directions to The Mound on a Blog but was glad when a local birder Rene turned up to lead the way. It was a fair walk through the woods, so it was a bit annoying that I lost a foot from my tripod somewhere on the walk in. There was one chap there already who was after the Great White Egret, which appeared as soon as we arrived. However, despite watching for about three hours, there was no sign of the Buzzard. Maybe it didn't like the high winds. Rene was confident that I would at least get a Short-eared Owl, but by the time he left at 2.30, there was no sign of one. Then, literally two minutes after he left, I did indeed find a Short-eared Owl, and another Barn Owl.

The Mound & the marshes beyond

Haddiscoe Marsh
The Cranes & the Short-eared Owl put my 2012 Year List total on 226 (& 3 sub-species).  Dom finished on 227 (plus 4 sub-species). I think he deserved to win having managed to accrue his List with a full time job, a wife & 2 young children, and a bad case of the flu when he made his Norfolk visit on the 30th. He's showed what skill, knowledge & determination can achieve!

I'm really glad I took part in the race. I learnt a lot, visited lots of interesting places, and saw loads more fantastic birds than I would have done without the added motivation.

I'm now looking forward to some chilled patch birding in 2013.

An update.....

I really should have mentioned how the other contestants fared in the race....

Paul: 188 + 2 He started well, but circumstances intervened such that he didn't add to his list after his trip to South Africa in October

Mary: 155 + 2 Not bad for a resident of Switzerland! The list was accrued during 2 birding trips (one with me & one with Paul) & a sneak visit to Paul's for Christmas, when a further 4 birds were added.

Steve: 99. A pretty poor effort....nothing added after Feb