Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Goshawks and more of the Harrier

5 March 2017


In a quick look around Egmere and New Holkham I failed to relocate the Pallid Harrier before I decided to drive south to Breckland. I did see a super Barn Owl at Crabbe Castle Farm, briefly perched beside the road. 

I arrived at my chosen destination at 08:30. Within five minutes 2 Goshawk (an adult male and imm female) were circling over the woods. Not long after a stunning adult female rose from the woods and circled round showing its flared white undertail coverts and huge frame. The adult male displayed above it, circling and slow flapping. Next up three birds chased and displayed together, 2 male and a young female, a rather pale juvenile flew through and a dark juvenile appeared from the west. About 09:45 it started to rain and surprisingly two Goshawks continued to display, until the rain got heavier and they descended into the woods. At least 10 Buzzard included a distinctive white bellied grey headed bird and 3-4 Sparrowhawk were also seen. A Woodlark was singing unseen nearby and Mistle Thrush and Fieldfare were also seen. 

With the rain falling heavily I headed back to Fakenham and then stopped briefly at New Holkham where I had brief views of the female Pallid Harrier over the stubble just as the rain arrived. A Red kite and a Buzzard were also seen around the field. 

I returned home and after some DIY returned to New Holkham with Mac. We soon located the Pallid Harrier which have superb views over the next hour before it circled up high and over into Holkham Park. A Med Gull called as it circled over. A quick look at Holkham freshmarsh produced a brief Spoonbill and 150 White-fronts of note plus at least 8 Marsh Harrier and 2 Buzzard. 

The Harrier circles up over the trees

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Pallid Harrier performs

4 March 2017

Egmere and New Holkham

Last Friday a probable Pallid Harrier was reported from Egmere. As Egmere is just a stones throw away from the Hen Harrier roost at Warham Greens I immediately thought if there was a Pallid Harrier in the area it would surely be roosting there in the evenings. With no reports from Warham on Friday I could not resist an early start. I was there not long after dawn, and not long after Eddie. He had seen an early departing Hen Harrier and over the next couple of hours we saw another three ringtails, one of which showed really well along the edge of the Saltmarsh. We also saw a close Merlin, 8 Bewick's Swan flew east, 2 Marsh Harrier, a Kestrel, a Barn Owl and a Mediterranean Gull. However there was no sign of a Pallid Harrier, so I did a short drive around the lanes to Egmere and back - nothing.

I returned to Warham in the late afternoon, seeing 3 grey male, and 4-5 ringtail Hen Harrier, 4 Marsh Harrier, 2 Merlin, a Kestrel and 3 Spoonbill, but again nothing resembling a Pallid Harrier.

I didn't try Sunday morning, being confident it hadn't come into roost on Saturday, but was back Sunday evening. A 2nd winter Glaucous Gull came off the beach and flew onto the Saltmarsh, a Sparrowhawk, 2 Merlin, a Peregrine, 7 Marsh Harrier, a Buzzard, a Kestrel, 3 grey male and 4 ringtail Hen Harrier were all seen. One of the ringtails was a juvenile that showed an apricot wash to the underparts, little streaking on the belly, strong facial markings and a weak collar. We had good views and it was definitely a Hen, but could this have been the bird reported from Egmere....?

However on Monday news came through that the Pallid Harrier had been photographed and those photos confirmed the ID as Pallid. During the week it was seen occasionally and mainly around Egmere and New Holkham. 

So first thing this morning I headed down the lane towards Egmere. As I reached the end near Crabbe Castle Farm a bird of prey was flying along the ridge to my right. Glancing over I saw a long, thin winged raptor with a long, drooping and apparently forked tail - I assumed it was a Red Kite and decided to pull up to view it. As I raised my bins I was somewhat taken aback to see the Red Kite had the plumage of a Pallid Harrier! I grabbed the camera and raced further up the lane hoping to intercept it. I managed a few shots in the gloom before it flew over the B1105. I followed it over, but it switched back and by the time I'd turned back around and got across the road it had vanished.

After 15 minutes searching the lanes I drove back down the Egmere lane and stopped at a suitable vantage point. As I scanned the distant hillside and valley I saw something in the distant field. Through the scope I could see it was the harrier and after a while it flew back towards me across the fields and over the hedge. It led me a merry dance for the next 30 minutes or so, during which time I even found a female Hen Harrier perched in the hedge, before I refound it heading back towards Crabbe Castle. I got ahead of it predicting its path. As I got out of the car and walked over to the opening the harrier came through it right past me and away over the B1105 - not sure who was most surprised.

Over the road I located it on the ground, sat next to a Marsh Harrier. Suddenly the Marsh Harrier took flight and the Pallid pursued, harried it until the much larger Marsh dropped its prey, which the Pallid picked up and took away to a nearby field. 

After eating it the Pallid flew down the valley over a hedge, but I soon located it sitting in a stubble field. Over the next 2 hours it gave brilliant scope views on the ground, eating some carrion, sat with a female Hen Harrier and mobbed by a Merlin. With several Red Kite, Buzzard and a Sparrowhawk the raptor spectacle continued.

At lunchtime we had a short walk from Walsey Hills to Salthouse seeing a Pale-bellied Brent Goose among the flock, 2 Stonechat, a hunting Peregrine over the marsh and a Kestrel.

Late afternoon I was back at Warham Greens. The 2nd winter Glaucous Gull flew east along the beach, a Spoonbill was seen distantly on the marsh, a Barn Owl flew out to East Hills being mobbed on the way out by a Herring Gull and attacked by a Hen Harrier on its return, 2 Merlin, 2 Peregrine, 3 female and a grey male Hen Harrier, 3 Marsh Harrier and 4 Buzzard. We also had a group of 6 Stonechat move west along the flotsam line.

Monday, 20 February 2017

February 2017

February 2017

4 February 2017 


The female type Black Redstart at East Quay before lunch. 

Black Redstart


A large mixed flock of finches to south of village included 6 Brambling, 60 Linnet, 5 Yellowhammer and 4 Reed bunting. 

A fantastic roost watch from 14:30 to 17:10 produced:
1 Short-eared Owl
2 male and 3 ringtail Hen Harrier
7 Marsh Harrier
3 Common Buzzard
2 Merlin (male and female)
1 male Peregrine
1 barn Owl
1 Imm Spoonbill flying west
1 Great Skua offshore
1 Fulmar offshore
2 Pink-footed Geese w
1 2nd winter Glaucous Gull e
2 Red-breasted Merganser
30 Golden Plover
60 Lapwing
50 Linnet
40 Goldfinch
30 Little Egret

Great Walsingham

1 Bullfinch
30 Linnet
4 Goldfinch

5 February 2017

Very misty start to the day meant a slow start. Tried Wells East Quay for the Black Redstart but no luck. Holkham was too misty so returned to check the finch flock at Warham. About 20 Reed Bunting and 16 Yellowhammer plus 5 Brambling and 80 Linnet. 
Walked from Cley East Bank around the reserve and down the West Bank out around Blakeney freshes and on to Morston for lunch in The Anchor. Then returned similar route but along the road at Cley, c5 hours of walking and 20 km. 

Siberian Chiffchaff
The Siberian Chiffchaff showed well but briefly. A dark Barn Owl seen on Blakeney freshes on the way out , a Pale-bellied Brent Goose, among good numbers of Dark-bellied Brents and 110 White-fronted plus a pale Barn Owl on return. A few Marsh Harriers, Golden Plover, and a heard Greenshank.

Stonechat - female
Stonechat - male

11 Feb 2017

Wells East Quay

1 fem type Black Redstart seen well along the concrete wall.

Grey Plover


Checked the finch flock. Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting numbers increased with c20 and c40 respectively. Also 50 Linnet, 40 Chaffinch and 5 Brambling   

Warham Greens

2 Male and 3-4 ringtail Hen Harrier
2 Buzzard
1 Peregrine
2 Merlin
1 Kestrel
6 Marsh Harrier
30 Little Egret

12 Feb 2017


1 fem type Black Redstart at East Quay showed well in the missle

Female Black Redstart or Grey Orange-end as Mac more aptly renamed it

Cockley Cley

Walked around the wood seeing a Buzzard but not much else.

Linford Arboretum

About 60 Hawfinch came into roost, creating quite a spectacle, looking like funky Christmas baubles in the tree tops.
5 Brambling
8 Siskin
2 Crossbill
4 Marsh Tit
Coal, Blue, Great, Long-tailed Tit
6 Bewick's Swans over

18 February 2017

Murston, Kent

The wintering male Pine Bunting hadn't been reported for the best part of two weeks, however given the amount of grain available from the duck shoot I was pretty sure it must still be around somewhere. So I arrived just after first light and parked the car near the stables. As I drove the last stretch about a dozen Yellowhammers flew from beside the track. On getting the scope set up I could instantly see a flock of Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, Chaffinch and Linnet feeding in the stubble field to the west of the path, so I scanned through them hoping to find the Bunting. However after 30 minutes there was no sign and the flock was rapidly moving away down the field. 

I walked down towards the gate into the duck shoot field and scanned the bushes. There was a Buzzard on the concrete wall and a Kestrel in the Hawthorn hedge, but no finches or Buntings suggesting the food had run out. As I scanned back across the stubble a Bunting flew past me calling, sounding a bit more hoarse. It dropped into the stubble and vanished. I scanned some more, and then there it was, that distinctive dark chestnut throat and white loral stripe. It crept around often in the longer vegetation and never showing in the open unlike the bolder Yellowhammers. I watched it for the next hour and a half as the flock made its way down the field, until suddenly they took flight and dispersed to the east and south. 

Pine Bunting in the stubble

The throat looked almost solid chestnut
As I walked back to the gate the Pine Bunting flew past me on the opposite side of the hedge but I didn't see where it went, and as I reached the gate I accidentally flushed the Yellowhammers which mainly flew off to the south. As the bird had been feeding off the public footpath I was not sure whether I could release the news, and having consulted Frank and learned the field really was private and the landowner far from welcoming I decided to withhold the news.

I decided there was little chance of me finding it again, so I made my way to Oare Marshes. The water level was really high and the tide was out so not much on show. After a brief scan and having warmed up I wanted to return to Murston and try again, hoping to find it in a public area. I parked in the same spot and found some Yellowhammers in the corner of the paddock. Most of them flew further away, and then a Yellowhammer arrived in the bush behind me, calling. But behind it I could hear something - something distinctive. A few steps down the path and there was the Pine Bunting, calling away in the next bush. I fired off a few images before it flew south along the track, back towards Little Murston Farm, landed in the trees, before apparently dropping down towards the lakes.

Pine Bunting

The throat appeared paler when fluffed up, showing a chestnut chin and lower edge
I walked around the field hoping I might re-find it, and then heard some Yellowhammers up on the edge of the track. I raced around and found the Pine Bunting sitting in a bush along the edge of the Farm garden. It dropped into the stubble to feed. I waited out of view, and waited, and waited. Yellowhammers flicked up and sat in the bush, and the odd Reed Bunting, but not the Bunting. Suddenly it called and took off vertically flying further south behind the trees and out of view. I searched around towards the solar farm but could not find it anywhere. Having now seen it in public areas I quickly put the news out, then headed towards home.

I decided to check East Malling Research Station in case any Waxwings were still around and was delighted to find 9 birds sat in the trees by the greenhouses. I watched them feeding on fallen apples before another group arrived to join them, with 14  in the trees and possibly more arriving when they returned to the apples. Always fantastic to see and the sun had come out.

Waxwing in the fallen apples
You'd think there were enough to go around

19 February 2017

Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire

A family get together at my parents in Worcestershire meant we had to literally drive through Stow-on-the-Wold where a Blue Rock Thrush has set up its winter territory. It had actually turned up the day after we were last there, so it would have been doubly rude not to stop off. I actually hate twitches in residential areas, always feels awkward looking around someone else's houses. As the bird had been here a while we were the only people, other than a young lad riding his rather cool four wheel electric motor bike around the close. I said to Mac that it was often on the roof of number 9 or 29, and we soon found them opposite each other at the end of the road. There was no sign initially, and Mac and my niece Emma soon decided they'd rather get a coffee in the village. However as they turned to walk away the Thrush appeared on the roof of number 29. I called them back and we got some pretty good views as it fed around the roofs and gardens, before it flew across the road onto number 9 and dropped over the roof.

It recalled the last one I saw in Morocco in December, sitting on the tv aerial of a house in a mud compound in the village of Lalla Takerkoust. In some ways not that different an environment, at that one had the Atlas Mountains and various desert gorges available locally.

The Blue Rock Thrush appears on the roof
And the chimney
It found plenty of food on the tiles
And then showed in a garden tree

25 February 2017, Warham Greens

With overnight news of a probable Pallid Harrier at Egmere I headed straight over to Warham Greens. I arrived a bit late at 07:30 but 3 ringtail Hen Harriers including one that showed brilliantly along the close edge of marsh. Also a showy Merlin seen twice, 8 Bewick's Swan flew east offshore and 2 Marsh Harrier, a Kestrel and a Barn Owl. A Mediterranean Gull flew in and landed on a pool.

In the afternoon returned to Warham Greens for the roost. Three male and 4-5 ringtail Hen Harrier, 4 Marsh Harrier, 2 Merlin, Kestrel, 3 Spoonbill on the marsh.

26 February 2017, Holkham

We walked out to the beach where 35+ Shore Lark were feeding in the vegetation until flushed by a dog walker. We then walked to the west along the edge of the woods seeing 2 Stonechat and a small flock of Goldcrest and Long-tailed Tit.

Shore Lark

The marsh side of the woods produced 4 Spoonbill, 500 White-fronted Geese, 1 Great White Egret and lots of Wigeon, Teal and Lapwing. Over the park a Red Kite, 5 Buzzard and 6 Marsh Harrier over the marsh. A Barn Owl hunted around the bush. Along Lady Anne's Drive were just 50 Pink-footed Geese and 100 Brent.

Warham Greens
A 2nd winter Glaucous Gull came off the beach and flew onto the Saltmarsh where it sat in a pool for a while, but disappeared while I was scanning. A Sparrowhawk, 2 Merlin, a Peregrine, a Buzzard, a Kestrel, 3 grey male and 4 ringtail Hen Harrier, including a juvenile showing an apricot wash and reduced streaking to its belly, strong head markings and a weak collar, 7 Marsh Harrier and a Mediterranean Gull.

Apricot washed juvenile Hen Harrier