Friday, 29 January 2016

Snow bunting and Snipe at Cley

On Sunday, we visited NWT Cley Marshes. Last time I visited here, we saw very little and got pelted with hail stones before we turned tail and ran for home. Thankfully, this visit was more successful! The weather was mild, if cloudy and a little windy along the coast line.

We began our visit in one of the hides not far from the visitor centre. Looking out over the beautiful flat landscape dotted with birds, we could just about pick out a number of common snipe keeping well hidden in the long grasses on the islands breaking up the marshes. Above them and the waders, wigeon and other ducks, two marsh harriers wheeled above, hinting at a sky dance. As they came closer, it was clear the male was carrying something in his talons, which, in one spectacularly smooth maneuver, he passed to the female. A harrier food pass! What a wonderful way to begin our visit.

As we began the long walk out to the see front, the grasses were in full voice in the wind, the air full of their fizzma. I am convinced that I saw a bearded tit dive from one stand of grass to another, but in the wind it was definitely not going to make a reappearance for confirmation, so we moved on. Some other friendly visitors tipped us off about a flock of roughly 20 snow buntings on the shingle by the sea. Not quite knowing what we were looking for, eventually, we stumbled across them just as they took flight. A flock of white-pink-brown flashes of wings and underbellies and then they were gone - rising high and descending far along the shore.

As we continued our windy walk, the sky began to clear and something spooked a large flock of lapwings. Their stubby wings eye-catching in white and black against the bright sky, they floated across the clouds. Their outlines stark and rigid against the fluffy shapes high above. They were unsettled and would not land, allowing us to appreciate their prowess and agility.

Our last large group of birds of the day was a huge gaggle of brent geese, all softly chatting to each other in their monotonous but sweet calls.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Christmas and New Year Wildlife

Happy New Year to everyone! Here's a little of what we've managed to do and see in the generally miserable weather over the Christmas break.

We spent the first part of Christmas is Southsea at my in-laws. It was lovely to have some walks by the seafront during the festivities. No migrant birds to be seen this time, but some beautiful house sparrows and starlings around, alongside a talkative gaggle of brent geese. Among the geese were a few skittish pied wagtails.

On the morning of our departure, on a nearby church, perched a peregrine falcon tearing at its meal of pigeon, feathers being blown in the wind after each rip of the peregrines beak.

Just after new year, we visited some friends who live in Sheringham. Another walk along the seafront in a very different part of the country. We approached a rather tame cluster of turnstones. Among this hardy little group though lurked a couple of much shyer purple sandpiper. Not a bird I think I've seen in Norfolk before.


Turning our backs to the sea, we spotted a small murmuration of starlings over the town, which slowly grew in number as the light began to drain from the sky. Multiple flocks appeared which mingled with each other, then separated. We hunted out their chosen roosting spot, watching the flocks shape shift above streets and houses on our travels. It was wonderful to see so many groups of people just stopping and watching the birds' performance. Eventually, we tracked down their chosen spot to a large conifer tree in a back garden and watched some of them stream down from the sky, then jostle and chatter for position. By the time we left, our friends estimated that there were probably in the region of 1500 birds in total.

This has been the only starling murmuration I have seen so far this season, but I have been sure to record it on the starling survey. If you see any, be sure to submit your recordings too.