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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Norfolk road trip Pt1 - White blobs on the Wash and scarce butterflies at Snettisham

So after the trials and tribulations of my aborted trip to the Somerset Levels and all the domestic 'busyness' surrounding my house sale, it was time to take a breather and head off in the new van.
My good friend Robin was free and came along for the ride and good news about my regular walkabout pal Mark .. he's gonna walk again!

The new van!

I Haven't  been to Norfolk for nigh on 15 years so reckoned it was time to revisit and the plan was to split 5 days (Mon - Fri) between the North Norfolk coast and the Broads, chill out with my guitar, Rob's cahon, the local flora n fauna and test drive the van that will be my roving home for a while once my house is sold.

Thankfully, large chunks of Norfolk are still a relative backwater in the UK (and I mean that in the nicest possible way)... few major access roads and lots of narrow winding ones - perfect! In short we had a cracking few days and with both of us snapping away far too much material for one post so here's the first of 3 or 4, starting bizarrely with our last port of call on the way back .... who needs order in the natural world!

Snettisham & The Wash
One of the largest estuaries in the UK with Norfolk on one side and Lincolnshire on the other, this is more than just a vast expanse of mud. Its a designated SPA (special protected area) and home to countless wading birds, ducks and geese, especially during the winter when its estimated that some 400,000 may be present at any one time (more info here - The Wash ).

Greylag Geese with chicks, Snettisham

The few hours we spent at Snettisham RSPB reserve were bathed in sunshine and the wet and wonderfully lush meadows that border the reserve were teeming with bird and insect life with many chicks taking their first steps.

The bushes were full of the sound of scratchy Common Whitethroats plus at least 2 Lesser Whitethroats, Reed Buntings and pleasingly good numbers of Linnets.

Female Linnet, Snettisham

Female Reed Bunting with bugs in its beak, Snettisham

Cuckoo calling from a way off, Snettisham

Cuckoos seem to me to have made a mini revival this year, we heard and saw many in Norfolk and back on my own patch one has been calling from my neighbourhood for the past week. This was a distant shot but came out ok and typical 'wings down' pose is shown off a treat here.

Brown Argus, Snettisham

The sun brought out the butterflies and amongst the brilliant Common Blues we spotted a handful of the locally scarce Brown Argus ... rubbish pic but hey it was a first for me so had to include it as a record!

The Blues were far easier, nonetheless this isn't far off as good as it gets of a nice bright male ... corker of a shot Rob!

Common Blue, Snettisham (pic by Robin Marrs)

Snettisham is renowned for the huge gatherings of migrating waders that gather there to feed on the mud and perform their spectacular aerial displays as they follow the tides .... this mighty fine pic, one of Chris Gomersall's (RSPB), gives you a fair idea!

We weren't blessed with such numbers!

Oystercatchers, Snettisham

...... but we were treated to some spectacular views across the Wash at low tide with a heat haze making distant Lincolnshire look rather more interesting than it actually is!
The Wash, from Snettisham towards the Lincolnshire coast.

Common Shelduck, Snettisham
and in the foreground those little white blobs you can just about make out are lots of these - we estimated close on 800 Shelduck resting up on the mudflats! Also spied a couple of summer plumage Grey Plovers when I zoomed in on some of these pics.
The vistas here are big and bold, typical 'estuary meets saltmarsh' you see around our coast I suppose, but here in Norfolk the surrounding fields seem more natural, lusher, less intensively farmed maybe, more 'hay rich' certainly and the consequent abundance of wildlife was very very obvious.
Young bucks (Roe deer?) with Greylag Geese, fields around Snettisham.

Next and coming up soon is Sandringham / Dersingham Bog and Cley Marshes

Monday, May 12, 2014

Bird surveying in North Yorks produces rocking horse shit around these parts .... breeding Redstarts!

Blogging my stuff has had to take a back seat for the past few weeks ... as even the less observant of you may have noticed but life has been hectic recently to say the least. In short I've sold my old camper, acquired a bigger and better one and have decided to sell my house and live in the new van  over the summer, probably winter in Spain again and then look to buy a smaller house next year. That's the plan anyway and if my house sells soon and I can negotiate a 9 month contract with Yorkshire Wildlife all the better!

So .... busy busy busy, tarting up the house, buying, selling, dealing with unhappy lodgers, not to mention a host of family issues to manage has created the most stress I've experienced in years and to cap it all my best mate Mark has just been involved in serious motorbike accident and has a badly broken leg. We were due to set off on a road trip to the Somerset Levels this week and any feelings of disappointment I have are totally dwarfed by his total abject misery at having to call the trip off .. in all the years we've been hanging out together I've never known him so enthusiastic and 'up' for the cause. He's so pissed off right now.

My thoughts are with him and hope as he does that the orthopaedic surgeons are cooking on gas when they go to work in the next day or so and that he'll be up and running for some mega trip in the Autumn.

So, its been an ok Spring so far, weather's been reasonable and although I've had this constant feeling of missing lots of stuff I have had a few trips out. One of the highlights was being asked to participate in an early breeding bird survey over 2 days back in April on YWT land in the Vale of Pickering at Low Carr farm and Appleton le Moors. My good friend Robin Marrs organised this and jolly good time we had ... still collating all the results but here's a few photos from the gig starting with the undoubted highlight, probable breeding Redstarts at Low Carr.

Didn't manage a decent pic of the female and both seemed very wary so I didn't push it ... need to pop back there soon to confirm breeding but this is a good record for the area.

Little Owl, Low Carr fm
Always good to catch one of these cheeky chappies too ... Little Owls are not as common as they once were and we had a definite pair.

Stacks of common warblers recorded - Willow Warbler, Chiff Chaff and Blackap but sadly no Whitethroats on this occasion. A handful of Sand Martins and Swallows were about and a Kingfisher plus a  pair of Bullfinches on what is essentially arable land was a bonus.

Other notable breeding species including good numbers of Tree Sparrow, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, at least 2 pairs of Song Thrushes, Common Buzzard of course but also Kestrel.

Several pairs of Curlew and Lapwing and a distant flock of Golden Plover which we couldn't really count, but sadly no Snipe in some good looking wet fields on the site, but Rob has some on moorland behind his house and still being a bit of a novice birdwatcher we had a laugh about him being freaked out by hearing their strange 'drumming' mating call - he thought aliens had landed in his back garden!

Breeding Curlew at Low Carr fm

Male Brambling, Appleton
Bit of a busman's holiday for me this and although my job was to just shout out all the birds it was strenuous enough ... up at the crack of dawn both days and walking all day. No complaints from me though and day 2 at Appleton le Moor was just as enjoyable. No real surprises here but some wonderful woodland habitat with the forest floor covered in Anemones, Bluebells and Wild Garlic. Nuthatches everywhere (we reckoned on 20 plus pairs), more warblers, all the common tits plus a probable Willow Tit amongst at least 3 pairs of Marsh Tit. Several pairs of Great Spotted Woodpecker (now this is a bird that's doing well!) and a single Green Woodpecker. On the river we had Goosander with chicks and a Grey Wagtail, Treecreepers in abundance, Goldcrest, Siskin, more Bullfinches and although just passing through a small flock of Bramblings were the star birds .... one very resplendent male in near full on breeding plumage was particularly photogenic, albeit through a mass of twigs and branches .... not bad for April 19th in North Yorks!
Male Brambling, Appleton
Female Goosander with chicks on the River Severn, Appleton
Marsh Tit, Appleton

?Willow Tit, Appleton
All in all a splendid couple of days, good weather, great company and something that needs to be repeated soon so we can get a better picture, many of the breeding birds of both area were yet to arrive ... cuckoo, whitethroat, lesser whitethroat, swift, etc and I could have sworn I heard a Wood Warbler at Appleton and those Redstarts need checking out again before everything goes quiet in mid June.

I'll leave you with a few snaps of YWT staff hard at work (our survey coincided with lambing time at Low Carr!) plus a couple of Rob's very nice wild flower pics ....
Rob with his hands full!
Surveying at Appleton

Surveying at Low Carr
Hard work this lambing .... but I suspect they were up all night!!
Forget me Not

Sloeberry flowers