Tuesday, 17 December 2013

14th December - Blashford Lakes

With it being relatively quiet locally I decided to spend the day at Blashford, somewhere I had visited once, but now wanted to spend some time there in the hope it may deliver something special.  I arrived around nine and met up with Ian who had already had the opportunity to wander around some of the hides.

We started on Ivy Lake, and visited the south hide first where there was little about.  Next stop was the north hide, but with the windows covered in condensation on the outside, and only two side windows that opened it was almost impossible to see anything.  We decided to give this a miss, and made our way across to the Tern Hide, looking over Ibsley Water.

The lake was covered in duck, geese and swans, a pair of Egyptian Geese flew over, and a pair could be seen on one of the banks amongst the Greylag Geese.  The duck were mostly Wigeon and Gadwall.

There seemed to be little groups of co-operative feeding going on, a Mute Swan, Coot, Gadwall and Wigeon would all be up ending together, making the most of each others feeding attempts.  There was even a Little Grebe close by, looking to pick off any insects or small fish that might be disturbed.

The ducks kept themselves distant from the hide, but every so often one or two would come close to the hide.  I resisted the temptation to photograph the Wigeon and Shoveler that came close, I have taken many pictures recently and probably do not need any more, so it was nice when a drake Gadwall approached allowing me the chance for some photographs

Its a delicate looking duck, from a distance it looks just a grey duck, but close up you can see the lovely wavy pattern of black and white on the breast and flanks and subtle browns on the wing feathers.  In flight it shows a white wing panel against black, and the the tail is black.  All this is set off by bright orange feet.

In amongst the many Wigeon and Gadwall were Tufted Duck and a few Pochard, there were in fact a small group of Pochard behind us in the calmer waters.  A white cheeked duck raised the hopes of s red head Smew, but turned out on inspection by telescope to be a male Ruddy Duck.  I haven't seen one for ages, before the cull and when I was living in Essex they were numerous, today though we felt as if we should publicise it too much!

Another diving duck, the Goldeneye was also present with about five males and three females seen.  They two did keep their distance and this was the best I could get.

Goosander could be seen on the banks sitting out of the water  There were two males and three Red Heads visible.  Every so often they would walk into the water swim around, and then return to rest on the bank.  Unfortunately they too were to far off for a reasonable photograph.

We left the hide and decided to walk around the lakes, returning to Ivy Lake.  In the south hide there was a group of Tufted Ducks and Coots feeding together, it seems a popular tactic.  The male Tufted Duck came close and provided a good opportunity for a picture, the drops of water still on its back.

We came out of the hide, and decided to walk alongside the river.  A Sparrowhawk emerged from behind a tree, and then drifted off only to be joined by another smaller hawk.  It looked like one was a female by the size accompanied by a juvenile male which was much smaller.  In a tree overlooking the lake stood a Heron totally unconcerned by the hawks

We made our way to the Goosander Hide, where we did get very good views of the Goosander.  They were still distant, but we could now see three pairs, and a single red head.  This male went for a little swim and preen before returning to the spit to rest.

A Great Crested Grebe came close to the hide, starting from beneath a willow tree that bent down into the water.

I have a very close affection for Great Crested Grebes, during my child hood they could be found on the lake close to our home, and I loved to watch them when ever I could.  They were probably the first more exotic bird I noticed as a boy, and they totally fascinated me.  As this bird came closer the shadows, ripples and reflections in the water framed the elegance of the bird, and despite the fact that it was in winter plumage it does look quite stunning.

The wind picked up briefly, and changed the complexion of the water creating a different scene.

But then the water settled down, and it continued to drift and dive, and I continued to enjoy the lovely bird.

As I watched the grebe I heard a familiar call, and something darted through my peripheral vision.  A Kingfisher, and it flew into the willows close to a sluice gate.  We could just make it out through the branches

It sat for a while, bobbing every so often, then suddenly it flew out low across the water in front of us and away to the left.  It eventually ended up on a wire looking down into what must be shallower water.

We watched it dive, go from sight, then return to the wire, and then back across in front of us, and into the branches again, almost in the same place.  It did exactly the same again, bobbing and looking, then came out flew around the sluice and off into the willow the grebe had been under earlier.

After awhile it did come back, so it would seem this is a regular bird with regular habits.

Just as we were about to leave we noticed that the Red-crested Pochard had come closer, sneaking in with a group of Wigeon.  An interesting bird, it looks nothing like a Pochard, but none the less is a very smart looking duck, with the red crested head, bright red bill, and the black breast and tail separated by the grey and white back and flanks

It would dive and come up with weed in its bill, apparently they feed on weed, more by dabbling than diving.

We finally left the hide and made our way back to the road.  The lake winds around here, and is much calmer.  The bank is lined with alders, and a party of Long-taield Tits were making their way past us calling and flitting in the higher branches.  I found a Siskin, and as I walked for a better view I saw another Kingfisher fly across the water.  A little further on a Lesser Redpoll called and eventually landed in the tree above us.

We took the path down between Ivy Lake and Rockford Lake.  As we walked along the path the Long-tailed Tits followed us calling all the way.  At one point we were very close, and as a result you get a sense of intimacy, as they let you in to their world as they forage and call.

A gap in the hedgerow revealed the Great White Egret on the other side of Ivy Lake, quite close to the north hide (but I don't think many would be able to see it).

We moved around to a screen where we could get a better view, and watched as it waded close to the reeds watching the water carefully for any chance of a meal.  As we did so the Long-tailed Tits called to us from above in the trees hanging over the screen.

We walked down to Ivy Lane, stopping to view through the last of the screens.  A wader was stood on what had to be vegetation in the water.  We were not sure what it was at first, but it turned out to be a Green Sandpiper on closer looks.

We then made our way along Ivy Lane, and they back to the cars.  we decided to drive to the car park by the Tern Hide, as this was recommended as the best viewing point for the Starling show.  As we arrived a large flock of at least 100 plus Greenfinches did not want to be missed or over shadowed by the main event, and continued to fly around above our heads and settle in the trees.

The conditions were quite gloomy, and the sun that was about in the afternoon had been replaced with clouds.  We took our place on the hill, and waited.  At about 3.45 the first Starlings started to appear away to the west, it may look bright in the photographs but these have been enhanced to show the birds

Then gradually small squadrons would appear to join the main flock swelling the numbers, a Sparrowhawk was seen briefly, and this caused a little panic, but two Buzzards that flew past seemed to be ignored

The without really seeing it happen the flock became thousands and the birds started to dance above the trees.

Some would veer off to the left, and others to the right, and then you would see them streaming back with probably even more birds in tow to continue the sky dancing above the trees.

As it got darker and later, they started to reach the shows climax with some amazing patterns.

I tried to get in closer with the lens, but in the gloom it was a little blurred, but then it must give an indication of what it must be like in the flock!

They would drop down, and then when they flew up the numbers seemed less and less.  It was now quite dark so we left the stragglers to fly around, and we made our way back to the car.  Another amazing wildlife spectacular.

Friday, 13 December 2013

8th December - Welney Wildfowl Trust

On the way home on the Sunday we took the chance to drop into Welney Wildfowl Trust on the Ouse Washes.  This area had seen some impact from the surge, but mainly only a rise in the water levels.

As we pulled up to the centre we disturbed a superb male Sparrowhawk, that happily flew along side the car giving fantastic views.

We walked across the bridge and own into the first hide.  Right in front of us were several Whooper Swans sitting on the bank

Close to the hide all the swans were Whoopers. 

I did manage to find a few Bewick's away in the distance, but they were never close enough to photograph.  Every so often they would swim out into the open water, and then take off.  The take off did not seem as laboured as that of a Mute Swan.

As well as take off, the Whoopers were coming into land, its always impressive watching large water birds land, bringing their bulk to a stop on water with their feet acting just like skis.

The swans were not alone and fo the first time for a long time I was able to watch and photograph Pochard.  Another very smart diving duck, that over winters here.  Their smart brick red heads contrasting with the black of the breast, and the grey of their backs.

Another diving duck was present in smaller numbers, the Tufted Duck, they golden yellow eye being enhanced in the sunshine.

We both learned this trip that drake Mallards do not quack, the call you hear belongs to the female or duck.  Mallards are quite common and as a result probably over looked and under appreciated.  Their plumage though like all drake ducks is extremely impressive.  In the winter sunshine the heads change colour constantly.  This roosting drake shows the different colours possible in their head feathers.

This was only a short trip, and we wandered away from the warmth and comfort of the observatory and walked along the trail to the west.  There was a large group of Black-tailed Godwits roosting on one of the islands the sunshine making them stand out almost silver in the distance. 

It was time to leave, but before we did there was one more chance to photograph the Pochard.  This time you can see the red eye, and the markings on the bill.

7th December - Titchwell & Holkham, North Norfolk

With Snettisham closed we resisted the early rise to see the geese, and instead enjoyed a good breakfast, after which we headed back to Titchwell.  The high tide was mid morning and we wanted to see if it breeched the walls again.  We also wanted to walk along the beach to see the state of the damage towards Thornham Point, there might also be some Snow Bunting about.  Despite a cloudy forecast, the morning was sunny, a little warmer and with less breeze.

At the visitor centre the feeders were very busy, but the Goldfinches were still interested in the seeds in the Alders surrounding the feeding station.

We walked around the meadow trail again, stopping by the dragonfly pool to watch the reflections in the water.  Black-headed Gulls were flying over, and you could see the reflections in the water as white ripples against the reflected blue of the sky.

We were going straight to the beach, and missing out the hides to start with, but as we passed the saltwater pools a male Shoveler sat there begging me to take its picture, and I was just a sucker for it!

Cloud was hanging over the sea to the west, and with the morning sun it enhanced the dramatic scenes of the sea's devastation.  The sky looking dark and menacing, while what was left of the dunes were bathed in golden light.

The tide was falling but there was still some life in the waves as we walked along the beach.

As the tide was falling it was revealing beds of razor clams, and these were attracting the gulls and many Oystercatchers, however if you looked a little closer there were other waders feeding amongst the broken shells.  

A Grey Plover

And a Sanderling, they would run like little clockwork toys as the waves broke and the sea rushed up the beach covering up where they were feeding

Looking back down the beach the clouds and sun was producing a dramatic scene, you can also get more detail on the impact the tide surge had on the dunes.  The vegetation you can see is marram grass still rooted in the sand.

We walked around to Thornham Point.  In the main channel a Red-breasted Merganser flew past us, but other than that it was quiet.  We came across a sign attached still to its post, the sign was from Holme NNR which was about five miles west from where we were.  It was a reserve sign for Raggy Marsh with the warning to keep off the dunes.  The sea must have ripped it out and deposited it here on the marsh.  You can just see the Holme Pines in the distance.

As I was taking the photograph I noticed two birds drop down into the tide line, and as we turned to walk back we disturbed them.  As they flew up the white in the wing was visible, and there was no mistaking Snow Bunting.

They flew off, but we found them again on the beach this time.

A little further on along the beach and a flock of small birds were heading for us, as they got closer the white was visible again.  As they passed by I counted 30 Snow Bunting, you can just see the white in this picture.

Attention now turned to the waders on the tide line, more and more razor clams were being revealed and there were now plenty of different species working there way through them.  Every so often the call of a Curlew could be heard, distinctive and evoking the sound of the wild.

There was a constant passage of Oystercatchers along the shore, but there was also a good build up of Bar-tailed Godwits.  They would use the wet sand, probing with their bills deep into the sand.  I watched one bird really digging deep, only for another to walk up to it and shoulder charge it out of the way, and take over digging.

They presented a lovely opportunity to get some good portrait shots.

Like the Oystercatchers the godwits would fly along the beach, and would come quite close.  Here you can see the lack of wing bar, and the barring on the tail taht gives them their name.

I couldn't leave out an Oystercatcher in flight.

When you look out to sea there is one dominating sight, wind farms!  They line the horizon from almost everywhere along the north Norfolk coast.  I can't make my mind up whether it is an impressive sight or just an eye sore.

The cloud was building up, and as is the case on a December day the sun was low and weak, and once covered by the cloud it starts to get gloomy again.  Here you can see again the remains of the dunes.

Turnstones had now turned up to feed in the razor clam beds, they joined the Sanderling that had been there for a while.  The Turnstones are a little more drabber in their winter plumage but remain an impressive looking bird none the less.

Sanderling, one with coloured rings.

Despite it being a little warmer it was time for a warm up and coffee, so we headed to the hides for a sit down and good "cuppa".  The Pintail were a little more confiding today, and with the sun behind the clouds photography was a little easier.

I watched a Snipe drop in, and then proceed to feed in the open quite close to the hide.

Normally a secretive bird, it was nice to get the chance to see one in the open.  

In the middle of the pool I noticed a group of waders, and on closer inspection could see that they were Ruff.  Slightly larger than a Redshank, but with a smaller beak, they stood in the shallow water.  Without really noticing it, their numbers increased.  In the end I counted 37.

Another wader to drop in was the Golden Plover, but we watched them arrive with groups of around 30 dropping out of the sky and ending up on one of the islands.

Once down they started to bathe in the water, splashing water over all those close by.

By now we had about exhausted the opportunities at Titchwell, and decided to move on, to where we were not sure, but we headed back towards the visitor centre.  Halfway along the bank there was a couple staring with binoculars into the reeds.  We stopped and casually asked what they were looking at, and they said there is a male Bearded Reedling in the reeds.  Expecting to have a distant view I scanned, only to be told it was close to us, and it was!

We could see it through the reeds pulling the seed heads apart, it was difficult to get a clear shot, but as if it must have realised, it gradually made its way to the top of the reed, and perched out in the open giving some wonderful views.

Then with a "ping" it was off across the reeds giving the views I usually see.  We carried on, a little elated to the visitor centre where we were told the place to see the geese in the evening is Holkham, and Lady Anne's Drive, so off we went.

The last time we had been here was full of wonderful memories, and visiting here today was going to lay some of those ghosts.  It was a beautiful winter's afternoon, just like six years ago it was a beautiful summer's day.  We walked along the boardwalk to the beach, and as we came through the pines, we were confronted with the all to familiar sight this weekend of the beach and dunes ravaged by the sea.

 We decided to walk around the outside instead of crossing the muddy beach.  A Rock Pipit stood in one of the pools lit up in the golden afternoon sun.

Once again the cloud over sea was contrasting with what was left of the sun lit dunes.

 There were very few birds about, the odd pipit would call, and a few Brent Geese were in the middle of the marsh.  This Black-headed Gull stood head on into the wind.

The light was incredible an continued to produce some stunning scenery all around us

Although the large dunes had been damaged there were signs all around of how in time they will build back once again.

We never made it to the sea which was a pity, but the memory was there of that August day in the warm sunshine.  She loved a beach, and this is an amazing one.

Heading back skeins of Pink-footed Geese were flying over the pines and you could hear them calling behind the trees in the fields. 

There was still enough light on the beach for one final performance lighting up the pools and dunes

And the pines that hopefully have survived the saltwater surge

We walked back to the car park, the sun was now setting fast,and hopefully the main event would not let us down this evening.  A ditch alongside the field looked quite impressive with the reflection of the evening sky

The Pink-foots were around us, and small groups continued to land in the fields close by to feed.

Gradually larger flocks began to appear and drift over us and on into the fields to the west of us

 Some would come right over our heads in a classic "V" formation, their wings and bodies being lit up by the last of the sun's rays

Other birds were not to be left out, Curlew called from the fields, and there was a large flock of Wigeon grazing not far away, their whistles punctuating the calls of the geese above us.  A large flock of Lapwing took off from amongst the geese, and flew around.  The golden light of the sun picked out the white in their chests and characteristic broad rounded wings.

As the sun sank lower, the sky became a kaleidoscope of yellows, orange and red, the geese silhouetted against it as they flew away to the west

 I turned around and Helen had gone, then I heard her call.  Apparently she had seen what she thought was a Barn Owl, and had gone to investigate.  When she got there it was sitting on a post, but by the time I arrived it was off hunting over the long grass, and away into the distance.

We watched two quartering the reeds and long grass, but at a distance unfortunately.  We waited to see if they would make their way back but they didn't.  Although I only had distant views at least Helen had gotten the chance of a good view, and it was an excellent find.

The Geese continued to fly over, now in huge numbers.

The Pink-footed Geese winter around the north of Norfolk in thousands, they head out of their roosts on the wash or around the bay at Wells and Blakney to the surrounding fields to feed.  On nights when the moon is full they don't return to roost, but continue to feed in the fields.  Fortunately tonight was not a full moon, and the geese were performing.

The sky continued to change colour, never being the same for very long, in flight the geese were black shapes against the sky, but very unmistakeable;e shapes.

Rather than head off to roost they continued to feed in the half light, and you could see them dropping from the sky to land with their legs down like an aircraft's undercarriage, their bodies "wiffling" as it is known so they can reduce their speed before landing.

There was a moon, and looking down the drive it was there above the trees in the pinks and indigo of the sky.

It was now very dark but we could just make out the skeins heading off to the west, and geese still feeding in the fields.

We decided to head back, and started along the coast road towards Burnham.  A little way along Helen pointed out geese coming over the fields.  Suddenly a few became a huge amount, and fortunately I was able to pull over.  It was dark and when we got out of the car all we could hear was the calls of the geese, then gradually our eyes adjusted, and above the sky was completely full of streams of geese like toad spawn across the sky.  I have never seen so many, and did not want to reach for a camera for fear of missing this amazing sight.  To be truthful any photograph would not have done the experience justice.

We watched as they headed towards Blakney Point, the sky full of the calls of these truly wild geese.  Another of those experiences we will remember for the rest of our lives, and finally what we had come to see.  How did we miss them yesterday?

A little further on a Windmill provided the perfect final shot against the wonderful sunset sky.

 Not to be out done though a skein of geese came over just as I was getting back into the car.  It is grainy but it shows what they look like, you just have to imagine thousands more all at the same time - Incredible