Tag Archives: Goosander

25th January 2015 – Owls Revisited

Another Owl Tour today. The weather conditions looked encouraging, with the promise of some sunny intervals during the day, though it was a little cloudy still first thing as we set off.

First stop was one of the regular Little Owl sites. Even before we stopped we could see a Little Owl perched up on the roof in some early rays of morning sunshine. Unfortunately, despite parking out of the way, the commotion of everyone getting out of the car spooked it and it disappeared inside before we could get the scope up and onto it. We eventually found another one perched up, though unfortunately not as close as the first and hunched up on the edge of the roof. Still, not a bad start to the day with two Little Owls.

At some more barns further west, a Red Kite flew lazily over the car and along the road, before perching up in a large oak tree nearby. We managed to get the scope onto it, though it positioned itself carefully and tried to hide amongst the branches, and its orange-red underparts glowed in the morning light. Eventually it took off again, towards us initially before, with one twist of its forked tail, it turned sharply and headed off across the fields.

P1110201Red Kite – perched up in an oak tree…

P1110203…before flying off lazily

A little further on still, we stopped to admire a large flock of Pink-footed Geese in a field. They had flown inland to feed on a recently harvested sugar beet field, but instead of feeding they eyed us warily, heads up and ready to take flight in an instant. We watched them for a while, noting the pink legs, feet and band round the bill, before leaving them to feed.

P1110204Pink-footed Geese – on a recently harvested sugar beet field

It was still a bit too cold and cloudy – the early sun had not lived up to its promise and the bluest skies had stayed to the south of us – and the other Little Owls were not playing ball. We did come across a nice covey of Grey Partridge right next to the road as we explored. However, with the opportunity for morning owls now largely past, we headed up to the coast.

The car park at Titchwell was already very full – even on a midwinter Sunday morning! So we headed out onto the reserve, stopping to admire the assorted finches and tits on the feeders by the visitor centre. The ditch by the path produced a brief Water Rail, but it was hard to see in amongst the sallows. Thankfully, another was at the front of the now drained Thornham grazing meadow pool and gave great scope views as it fed along the edge of the reeds.

The exposed mud was alive with birds. With the water levels on the freshmarsh still high, the waders had flocked to feed here. The highlight was a Spotted Redshank which flew in calling, dropping down but stopping all too briefly before flying off again out onto the saltmarsh. However, there were also lots of Ruff, Snipe, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank and Lapwing which gave us more chance to study them closely. A couple of Rock Pipits were out on the mud, looking very dingy with dirty-coloured underparts. Another bird which dropped in nearby was subtly different, with a much paler whitish ground colour to its underparts – a Water Pipit. This was a great chance to see these two closely related species side-by-side.

P1110208Avocets – struggling to find anywhere to feed on the flooded freshmarsh

Out on the freshmarsh were lots of ducks. A little group of Pintail looked particularly stunning, the drakes showing off their long pin-sharp tail feathers. But all the drakes were looking smart at this time of year – lots of Shoveler, Teal, Wigeon. Only a single Gadwall was lurking in amongst them. Large flocks of both Greylag and Brent Geese dropped into the water. A small group of hardy Avocets must have been regretting their decision to stay for the winter. They were huddled on one of the few remaining islands, flying round and round at one point as if looking for the shallow water and muddy islands which are normally their favoured feeding areas but currently underwater.

Walking on along the bank, the biggest surprise of the morning was a group of three streamlined ducks which flew high over the freshmarsh – a drake and two redhead Goosander. Unfortunately, they didn’t stop and carried on high west.

P1110209Black-tailed Godwit – feeding close to the path on Volunteer Marsh

We added to our tally of waders with a look at the volunteer marsh. Out on the mud were several Curlew, a little group of grey Knot, a couple Turnstone running around, a bright spangled Grey Plover and a single Oystercatcher. We were just heading to the beach when a single Bar-tailed Godwit appeared – a good chance to compare with several Black-tailed Godwits nearby. Out on the beach, there were lots of walkers, but we managed to find several more Bar-tailed Godwits as well as a single Sanderling among the Dunlin.

The sea has been very quiet in recent weeks, but we still picked up a small group of Common Scoter and a few Red-breasted Merganser. A young Peregrine circled over towards Brancaster. The day was getting on, so we headed back , stopping to look at a Merlin which flashed across the saltmarsh towards Thornham – it landed and we could see it perched up but very distantly. Then it was back to the car for a late lunch and a warming drink.

P1110215Woodpigeon – very tame and rather too interested in our sandwiches!

From Titchwell, we drove back along the coast to Burnham Overy. The walk out was fairly uneventful, but from up on the seawall we could immediately pick out a Short-eared Owl quartering the grazing marshes. We walked further along to where it was hunting and watched in awe as it flew back and forth in front of us. It disappeared out across the marshes and then shortly afterwards what may have been a second Short-eared Owl appeared over by the dunes. We walked a little further still and it dropped down onto the grass and perched up on a molehill giving us great views through the scope, its yellow irises shining in the afternoon sun, before resuming hunting. We stood and watched it for some time. Stunning.

P1110224P1110222Short-eared Owl – gave stunning views again this afternoon

The Rough-legged Buzzard was also out on the grass, initially sat over towards the dunes. Through the scope, we could see its pale head and contrasting blackish belly patch. Several nearby Common Buzzards gave us the chance to compare it against both normal dark birds and a striking pale individual which has been here for some time now. A Red Kite, several Marsh Harriers and a couple of Kestrels added to the variety of raptors in view – it has been very good for birds of prey here recently.

IMG_2330Rough-legged Buzzard – one of the wintering birds at Burnham Overy

As we turned to head back, the first Barn Owl appeared, flying silently over the marshes. It was a bit distant, but we saw it drop down into the grass and could see it in the scope when it lifted its head. Then a second appeared, even further over towards Holkham.

As we walked back, we stopped to admire a flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese feeding by the path and in amongst them found the regular hybrid Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brent Goose. As we stood there, a third Barn Owl appeared ahead of us along the track. We thought it might continue to hunt over the fields, but it suddenly flew up high and set off across in front of us and purposefully over the reeds and away to the other side of the marshes. Almost back to the car, a fourth Barn Owl was hunting around the set aside field by the path, and kept moving just ahead of us all the way back to the road. Not a bad tally of owls for the afternoon!

We finished the day with a quick stop at some woodland inland. We were a bit later than planned, but could hear several Tawny Owls hooting as soon as we got out of the car. Unfortunately, they were impossible to see with the light now all but gone, but we spent some time listening to them as darkness fell, such an evocative sound

9th January 2015 – Windy Weather

Today was billed as an Owl Tour – but it was always going to be a bit of a struggle in wild and windy weather. Owls don’t really like cold and wind. Still, we decided to give it a go and make the most of the day.

Our progress wasn’t helped, at our first site, when we discovered farm workers busy working amongst the farm building where the Little Owls normally like to sit.  A large flock of Curlew was feeding in a stubble field and a couple of Brown Hares were chasing each other back and forth.

P1100844Fieldfares – small numbers have been on the move in recent weeks

We worked out way westwards in the hinterland behind the coast. A quick detour produced a couple of Tree Sparrows in amongst a flock of House Sparrows. These birds have become very scarce in recent years and only scattered sites remain in N Norfolk. A large flock of over 100 Fieldfare were feeding in a field by the road.

We stopped to look over some wet grazing meadows. A Red Kite circled up lazily from a tree, a long tail dangling from its talons suggested it had picked up a dead rat. Several Grey Partridges were calling, and a scan revealed a covey of at least 8 birds. A pair of Kestrels flew up from the side of the road as a car went past and landed in a small tree. Suddenly the male set off at speed and it was quickly apparent that it was attempting to intercept another female which had just flown in, perhaps one of last year’s brood. The first female also joined in and all three birds flew around calling loudly, chasing and grappling. A Common Buzzard also flew into the trees. However, although the weather had brightened a little, there was no sign of the local Little Owls.

We drove on to Titchwell. A Bullfinch calling in the car park flew up and perched in some brambles. There were lots of finches in the trees around the visitor centre – a large number of Goldfinches, but also Chaffinches and a few Greenfinches.

The grazing meadow pool has just been drained – gone were the ducks, but lots of Lapwing had now taken their place along with at least 20 Ruff. A Kingfisher flew over the mud all too quickly and disappeared into the reeds at the back. While we were standing there, a Water Pipit flew in calling and dropped down onto the mud at the edge of the reeds right in front of us. We got great views of it in the scope. Even better, nearby we found several Scandinavian Rock Pipits for comparison – good to see these two tricky species almost side-by-side. Also on the Thornham side of the path, a couple of Snipe were trying to hide out on the saltmarsh.

P1100849Titchwell Freshmarsh

Out on the freshmarsh, a couple of the islands have started to appear again, after the recent flooding for management purposes. 16 Avocets were gathered on one of them, and a group of Black-tailed Godwit on another, along with plenty of Lapwing. However, the wildfowl predominated – a large raft of Pochard, along with a smaller number of Tufted Duck, out on the water, as well as plenty of Brent Geese. Several Pintail included a few stunning drakes with their long pin tails – other ducks included lots of Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler. However, the highlight was a single Red-crested Pochard out on one of the islands – unfortunately it spent most of its time asleep!

P1100851Black-tailed Godwit – this one was on the tidal pools

The Volunteer Marsh has been good for waders in recent weeks. Today, it held lots of Grey Plover, several Knot, Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank and Turnstone. More Black-tailed Godwit were out on the tidal pools, along with several more Pintail and a very smart pair of Goldeneye. A quick look at the beach added Bar-tailed Godwit and Sanderling to the list. On the walk back, a Water Rail was hiding in one of the ditches close to the visitor centre.

IMG_2192Goldeneye – a pair was out on the tidal pools

We headed back to Burnham Overy – a quick detour again failed to produce a Little Owl, but by now the weather was quickly clouding over again. A scan from the road while we ate our lunch eventually produced a Rough-legged Buzzard hovering distantly over the dunes. It landed and a short while later was joined by a second – we watched the two of them circling together. Small groups of Pink-footed Geese were flying inland overhead calling.

Out on the seawall, the rain clouds started to gather. A Peregrine was out on the grazing marsh, sat on the grass, preening. A cloud of Golden Plover swirled up and out over the saltmarsh, before settling back onto the grazing marsh. With all the raptors about – several Common Buzzards, Marsh Harriers and Kestrels as well – it was perhaps no great surprise they were so jumpy. When all the Pink-footed Geese took flight, the Golden Plovers were off again, along with hundreds of Lapwing. We watched one the Rough-legged Buzzards circling up amongst them, before heading off over to the dunes; then hovering repeatedly as it hunted back and forth, and finally flying back to the grazing marsh again and landing on the grass. However, there was no sign today of any Short-eared Owls in the cold and windy weather.

P1100856P1100855Rough-legged Buzzard – circling over the grazing marsh with Lapwings

With the rain starting, we beat a retreat back to the car. On the way to Holkham, several thousand Pink-footed Geese had gathered in a sheltered field by the road side. As we stopped to look at them, a striking pale Common Buzzard flew over and all the geese flew out onto the marshes. At Lady Anne’s Drive, the first fields looked quiet but down by the pines it was clear there were enormous numbers of Pink-footed Geese already gathered on the grazing marshes. Despite the drizzle, we walked out along the edge of the pines, with the constant cackling and yelping of the geese as a soundtrack. There were no Barn Owls out hunting in the now wild and windy weather but we did find a lot of owl pellets at a favoured roost site nearby. The highlight at dusk was a beautiful pink-tinged male Goosander on Salts Hole, together with the usual pair of Goldeneye.