Monday, 30 August 2010

Foiled again!

I realised that high tide at Breydon was actually about 2pm today so my arrival at 10am should have been very early.  Wrong.  Yet again there was no mud.  Honestly I am going to burn the tide table book and take pot luck in future.  It is starting to feel hopeless.  Or maybe I should arrive at low tide and take lunch!  I am dying to pick through lots of waders.  It has always been one of my favourite ways of birding.  Mind you today sitting in the raised hide was a bit hairy to say the least.  With the high winds it was rocking and swaying something chronic.  Quite scary if you thought about it too much.  I did think about it too much so I went back to the car and off to Winterton for a seawatch!

When I arrived at Winterton I was pleased to see a small collection of birders standing by the huts.  That was a first in itself.  Even more pleasing was seeing the man I have chatted to twice before, once at Rush Hill and once at the Nelson's Head track, so at least there was a familiar face.  There were some other birders there who I was told were local experts but they were not very chatty and seemed to keep themselves to themselves.

Aparently there had been streams of skuas past before I arrived but typically wasting time at Breydon looking at naff all I had missed the good stuff.  After the other birders left I got onto a Bonxie and a Sooty Shearwater.  I am positive about the Bonxie but the Shearwater was a probable.  Either way it was very satisfying to pick up and ID some nice birds by myself.  Especially the Bonxie because it was really good in the sunlight, you could see the white on the wings glowing.  All in all I had about an hour and a half of quite nice seawatching.  It was howling wind but the sun had come out and it was dry for the first time in days.  Result!

Now I must get out my 'Flight ID of European Seabirds' book and start swotting up!  I am at The Haven tomorrow so there will be no seawatching or mud spotting until Wednesday.  Fingers crossed for a law abiding tide and dry weather!

There are TWO male Pheasents in the garden!!!

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Still getting it all wrong...

Flushed with previous success I have made a few trips to Winterton this week hoping to get better at the ole seawatching lark.  Sadly things have not lived up to expectations despite promising weather conditions.  On Friday I was sitting watching Gannets Gannets and more Gannets.  I got home and checked Birdguides to find that Rainham had been having a fantastic day, Scoter, Bonxie, Sandwich tern, all sorts up and down the river all day.  I texted H to say that they had been having a better day there than here on the coast.  He replied 'I am in Norfolk....'  I felt his pain! 

Today Hairy Hubby was watching the F1 and I was bored stiff so I decided to head off for the coast again.  It was howling with wind and I thought I might be in with a chance.  Sadly I spent more time in the car with the scope poking out of the window than I did outside and all there were guessed it Gannets!  When I got home there was a late entry to say that at 10.30am (when it wasn't raining...) someone had seen Barred Warbler AND Pied Flycatcher at Winterton Dunes.  Isn't hindsight wonderful!

I have also decided to try and get Breydon Water right.  Friday morning looked a good timed tide so I headed off, this time a good two hours before high tide thinking that should be ample.  After all everyone tells me to get there an hour before.  Typically there was no mud left at all and all the birds were huddled in the undergrowth.  I did manage my first Golden Plover of the year (that is sad) and a few other nice birds but it did not fulfill it's promise.  You can see a pattern emerging here.  High tide tomorrow is about 1pm so I am going to get to the hide for 10.30.  I bet there is no mud.......

The garden is continuing to get busier.  Not busy but busier.  Monty the mole has been visiting again.  I like to see his little piles under the Laurel tree.  Hubby snarls every time he sees one but, well...tough!  Butterfly the squirrel has visited a few times too.  I have not seen him much since I barricaded the feeders.  So long as he does not find a way to eat all the bird food again he is welcome.  I have also seen The Jays and Woody the Great Spot so fingers crossed for a busy winter in the garden.

I do enjoy the drama of the weather now I live surrounded by trees.  You really notice the wind and rain from what the trees are doing.  It's nice to feel surrounded by the elements.  Well when it's not messing up your birding that is.  When you sit indoors on a windy day the trees are a constant background roar, it's very dramatic to listen to.  We went and got a quote for a log burning stove yesterday so I am looking forward to winter curled up in front of the fire with a good book listening to the trees singing.  I would have liked a fire today...some August Bank Holiday!

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Sunny seawatching off Winterton

In a moment of madness today I got up early, went without my normal marathon hairwash etc and took myself off to Winterton for a seawatch.  I managed to get there for 8.30 which is late for most birders but a bloomin' miracle for me at the moment!  It was a gorgeous morning and I felt very smug when Hairy Hubby rang from London where he is working to tell me it was horrbile and overcast.

At first the sea looked very quiet and as there were no other birders there I thought I had probably got it wrong again.  Mind you no doubt all the 'proper' seawatchers had already ticked everything and packed up by the time I arrived.  Any of them who are reading this are probably throwing their hands up in horror at my laziness.  Either that or saying 'why did you go to Winterton, it was much better for Horsey today'  or that sort of thing.  That's the trouble, I really just do not have a clue where to go and when.

Anyway, I had a decent couple of hours, I spotted my own Black Tern and I am 99% I also had a White Winged Black Tern.  Lots of Gannets were out there, mostly immatures to confuse me at a distance.  My seawatching is so rusty it has siezed up.  I think its been pushing two years since I have had a proper seawatch.  What I need is a seawatch buddy.  If I could find the local birders and find out what time they go to Winterton it would help!  I could just latch onto some poor unsuspecting soul and hope they help me.

I also saw another Harbour Porpoise.  I am really surprised to have seen two in so short a time, I suppose that must mean they are always out there but you only see them when the sea is calm.  Other stars of the morning were Arctic Skua which I really had to think about until it decided to harrass the terns, at which point I muttered confidently 'Arctic Skua' like I knew what I was doing. 

I got onto the two female/immature Velvet Scoter which I have seen on Birdguides for a couple of days.  I was well pleased with myself, that is the first time I have seen one all by myself.  I really must start that 'self found' list.....!  I decided to do the right thing and report the sighting to Birdguides when I got home.  I typed in the details, adding the harbour porpoise for good measure and hit send.  Then I got a message telling me that my news was 'local' and they might not use it!  Well, cheers Birdguides, considering you have published two reports of the birds by others in the past week that made me feel really good.  Maybe next time I will just tell myself that I live in Norfolk so I don't have to bother with reports!  Hmmmmf!!

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Lottie, Smartie and Mr Dunnock

The little residents at Wing and a Prayer are always entertaining.  Take today, Lottie the Little Owl was flying free in the hospital.  Lottie is almost mature, as far as I know she has been in the hospital about 3 months but don't quote me.  She has a damaged retina so her eyesight is not so good and therefore will not be able to hunt for herself in the wild so will no doubt be looking for a home at some point. 

I was changing the water for one of my favourite little birds Smartie the House Martin and his room mate Dunnock.  Smartie as usual was all mouth and feathers, clamouring to get out of the cage and climbing all over my hands.  While I was trying to get him off my hands so I could close the cage door Mr Dunnock (sorry I am sure he does have a real name but I don't know it) decided to make a bolt for freedom and flew out of the cage door.  He looked very pleased with himself flying round the hospital and eventually came to rest smugly on top of the baby Pigeon cages. 

Lottie's reaction was instant, she was so interested in him, her eyes were following him everywhere and she started head bobbing and all sorts, you could almost see her mouth watering while thinking 'Mmmm Dunnock for lunch'.  So maybe her eye is not as bad as it seems!  It was so fascinating to see such an instinctive reaction from her, as she would in the wild.

Mr Dunnock of course had no clue of his close shave and was most put out when he was returned to his cage.  Apparently he is about ready to be released.  Smartie sadly is not, he is so keen to get out but for reasons unknown he is not a good flyer.  He was released a couple of weeks ago but was brought back the next day after being found in the mouth of next doors dog!  When we let him out in the hospital he ends up on the floor.  The same goes for the two Swifts, they just don't fly.  Goodness knows what will happen to them because all the other Swifts have gone back now and the House Martins are gradually going.  They can't really be released in winter with no other birds of the same species about.  I am told that all the ones who were left behind last year just seemed to pine away and die because the urge to migrate was so strong they could not bear it.  Poor little Smartie I will be so sad if he suffers the same fate.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Never have a birder for a mother....

I had a little excitement today in the form of a mini-twitch.  I read on Birdguides this afternoon that there had been an Osprey at Strumpshaw Fen RSPB at lunchtime and also yesterday.  After muttering curses that no news had been put out yesterday (it would have been out within 5 mins if it was Rainham) I sweet-talked my darling daughter into coming twitching.

Poor Bonnie has had a few twitching experiences with me over the years.  The first being the Spotted Crake at Cornmill Meadows where we waited 3 hours for a 3 second view.  Then there was the time we were heading off to Lakeside shopping when I dropped it into conversation that we were going on a diversionary twitch to Rainham for ...oh what was it now...oh yes another Spotted Crake.  So she now had a list of two rarities but they were both the same.  Then there was the Grey Phalerope at Abberton.  That was a 'lets call in on the way home' job, which involved racing down the A12 from Clacton chasing daylight at 80mph, getting low on diesel, blagging a permit for the dam and then (this is the bit she has not forgiven me for) having to climb fences to see the bird.  We also went to Rainham and saw a Spoonbill from the centre.  That one she enjoyed because a) the bird was hilarious to watch feeding and b) she did not have to walk far.

Anyway in typical style Bonnie has already seen an Osprey in Scotland years ago, before her mother turned into a monster who drags her all over the place in search of birds.  That day was eventful too.  She and I were watching the bird through the Centre's scope when one of the wardens came in rather flustered saying he had just had to throw two blokes off the reserve for Pike.  Bonnie and I gave each other horrified looks and said 'please God no don't let it be them'  We dashed back to the camper van to find Hairy hubby and son looking most fed up.  Yes they had been trying to fish in a nature reserve and could not understand what they had done wrong.  Apparently there were no signs telling them not to fish there.  The fact that it was a nature reserve and that you would have to be a moron to think you could fish it did not enter their heads!

Thinking about it I was lucky she came with me today!  We were lucky though, the bird showed after about 5 mins, flying right over our heads giving lovely views.  I think she rather enjoyed it, I know I did!

Saturday, 21 August 2010


It's been so quiet recently in the garden that there really has been nothing to write about.  Thankfully I am noticing a few small birds returning, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Great Tit and Chaffinch.  Still nothing larger though, Jason the Jay has vanished, I can hear Pheasents out there but no sign of them yet.  I keep sprinkling a trail of seed into the garden in hopes they will pick up on it.  I put a whole loaf of stale bread out the other day and it just sat there going mouldy until the lawnmower picked it up.  Mind you I should not be surprised because that lawnmower has eaten just about everything else!

I have seen a grass snake a few times along the fence line.  The first time I was on a morning nature trail round the garden with the Grandkids when Dylan and I both shouted 'snake' at the same moment.  The second time he was in just about the same place so I am intending to put a few more mats about to attract him.  I have one sad little Tesco's value brand rubber car mat at the moment but as the Hairy Hubby has finally tarfelted the Summerhouse (hoooooray!) there are lots of offcuts of tarfelt so I will be liberating some of them tomorrow and dotting them round the garden.  It will be interesting to see if I find anything but beetles.  I know some people find beetles riveting but they are not my favourite wildlife.  Especially after finding one in my sleeping bag on a school trip at the age of 8, but that is another story.

My excitement recently has been volunteering at Wing and a Prayer.  Mostly I am cleaning out birds but I have been able to handle several species including, House Martin, a ducking (awww) lots of pigeons and Doves and also Crow and Herring Gull who were a bit scary.  Last week the young Herring Gull had got so big I asked the owner to get her out of her cage incase she bit me fought me too much and hurt her broken leg.  I have also hand fed some baby blackbirds and seen a House Martin Released. 

It's not all happy though.  There is a viral infection in the area affecting the local population and also some of the birds in The Haven.  Last week when I was there a little blackbird, one of the ones I had hand fed, was fine one minute, collapsed 10 minutes later and was dead within another 10 minutes.  It was so shocking how fast he went.  I know he was fine when I arrived because I had a little chat with all the birds before I started work and he was chatting back to me. 

I have managed a bit of seawatching this week.  Sadly I missed out on what I have heard was a seawatch bonanza last weekend but never mind (actually I do mind)  I just am not familiar with what is good conditions for which place yet.  It is a different style of birding round here to what I am used to.  At least that's how it seems.  I have had contact from a couple of local birders via a Yahoo group so fingers crossed I may have some birding buddies in the area before long.  Lord knows I could do with some contacts.