February 2017 in the North East

I had promised myself I’d visit Norfolk, namely RSPB Titchwell, at least once while staying nearby on the east coat, so a warm sunny Saturday seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so. I had limited time, as a social event in the evening had been planned, but the hours spent at Titchwell were still brilliant. My main target was the sea, having seen various impressive reports over the past few months, and certainly wasn’t disappointed. So many ducks!!

I’m used to sea watching at Hill Head, where the Isle of Wight limits both the quality and quantity most of the time, plus the land doesn’t stick out like Portland, so even just the number of common scoter offshore was great to see. Even better though, there were large numbers of long-tailed ducks and velvet scoter, of varying plumage, which was fantastic, especially as many gave good scope views! Other highlights were red-throated diver, goldeneye and eider on the sea, while sanderling were running along the beach near a nice flock of knot and bar-tailed godwits. I didn’t explore much of the reserve, but it was good to see a small flock of avocets and spotted redshank among the waders and wildfowl on the scrapes. Strange as it sounds, I had been missing the sea and seawatches. I may have been living on the east coast, but the sea is miles away. The vast expanse of saltmarsh in the estuaries is impressive though. 

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Pacific Diver, East Chevington, 5th February 2017

As the pacific diver seemed rather settled at East Chevington, I decided to pay it a visit while staying ‘up north’ in Lincolnshire. The north, I’ve been reminded, is a big place especially as almost everywhere is north compared to home. Still, the pacific diver was closer to me than the Cornwall individual, and worth the visit – a lifer, showing well in the lake while I watched it on 5th; consolidation for missing red-necked grebe on patch (proper county rarity!) that morning. Whilst there, a bittern flew past and landed in the reedbed. Time then for the next target of the day, Skinningrove’s eastern black redstart; a lovely bird that also showed well on the beach alongside 2 stonechats, a couple of dunnocks and a robin. The fulmar on the cliffs above were also a pleasant sight.

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Eastern Black Redstart, Skinningrove, 5th February 2017

The twitch got me thinking. Nice as it was to see these lifers, more time was spent travelling than actual birding, and I’m not sure much actual birding was done. I’ll certainly not give up twitching, but try to make more of the day in future (some previous twitches have done so), and take more note of the other species present too. Added to that, I reminded myself that a top birder was telling me once we should try not to see ‘too much too quickly’, which is a good point.

As such, I actually stayed fairly local the next weekend, but had a rather birding-less week I must admit, although surveying at Freiston on 6th did yield 4 knot. However, 11th involved a trip down to Willow Tree Fen to catch up with a lovely bluethroat which showed brilliantly in the freezing conditions. It reminded me of my first twitch four years ago, when I was just getting into regular birding. That too was a bluethroat, in similarly cold conditions, but on the Isle of Wight (a family holiday, honest!, where I was informed of the bird’s presence) and the bird was much more elusive. It took us two attempts to get it, and I think probably put mum and dad off birding and twitching as it was bitterly cold! I do also remember having excellent views of water rail there – St Helen’s Duver, I think – but sadly no pictures. Back to Willow Tree Fen, we didn’t see any water rail, but certainly some about calling. A small flock of geese too, mostly white-fronted and a pink-footed goose.

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Bluethroat, Willow Tree Fen, 11th February 2017

The following day (12th), I waited until the rain stopped before heading out to Frampton Marsh, with highlights of an avocet, and plenty of pintail, ruff, goldeneye, ringed plovers and more. The whooper swans that roost on the reserve have chosen to feed on the fields by the house of late, so it was nice to watch them during daylight for once! One of the fields also had a red-legged partridge. Another bonus at the moment is the small flock of brambling that’s taken up residence in the farm and garden, often on the feeders at breakfast! It’s certainly nice to enjoy the variety of finches and bunting around the house. Being in the countryside is rather different to the surburbia I’m used to, though at least there are fields and reserves close to my home too. And waxwings near home too, so I see, with a group of five by the Whiteley shopping centre.

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One of the small flock of Brambling at Frampton Marsh

I happened to have a 3 day weekend, so joined Chris Andrews for another day’s birding on 13th. Great grey shrike was our first port of call, but the bird was sadly flushed by someone deciding it was a great idea to walk out onto the scrub instead of viewing from the gate as instructed… Moving swiftly on, good views were had of a great white egret and long-tailed duck along the river at Deeping High Bank, followed by 2 long-eared owls at Deeping Lakes. After a return trip to the shrike for much better views, lunch was spent enjoying cranes in the Nene Washes, followed by a couple of hours at Rutland Water. It’s the first time I’ve properly visited Rutland (after dipping the surf scoter 6 weeks ago), and was very chuffed with highlights of 7 smew – lifer for me, and great birds – and 2 scaup.

In an attempt to get myself back into ‘proper’ birding again, I’ve been waking up earlier and strolling around bits of Frampton before work. One particular highlight for me has been a flock of brambling hanging around the farm and house this month, while early morning strolls have also yielded both barn and little owls, many goldeneye, tree and house sparrows, and yellowhammers, among others. It’s begun to feel rather spring-like during these early morning sessions now, what with being woken up by the beginning of a dawn chorus before 7am (yay!), and the strolls being accompanied by the sound of singing song and mistle thrushes, yellowhammer and sklylark.

I suppose one good thing about birding, or nature in general, is that it’s all around you and one can be sort of birding constantly, wherever one is, so yelling “Egyptian geese!” as we passed through Frampton village after a successful food shop one evening seemed perfectly normal. It was interesting, and the first we’d seen this year, sadly outside of the reserve boundaries. On another occasion, I’d barely been driving for a minute when I had to pause (it’s a quiet country road) to admire a lovely male hen harrier quartering across the field not far from the reserve; a great sight, and the best views I’d had of one.

Another weekend dawned, with plans of meeting up with my parents and some friends of theirs, so a daytrip to Norwich was on the cards for 18th. before meeting up with them, a brisk walk around Frampton was squeezed in, with highlights of an avocet on the scrapes, and 6 or so bearded tits flying around the reedbed. Norwich, I thought, was surely close to the regular flocks of bean geese Norfolk get each winter so I convinced my parents it was the perfect opportunity for a while goose chase. Thankfully, the wild goose chase was successful, although we did detour over to Breydon Water where 95 tundra bean geese were present in fields by the rugby club. One more lifer for me, as they’re not regular on the south coast. A more laid back local day was planned for 19th. A brief hour at Frampton Marsh yielded 2 scaup and a barnacle goose on the reedbed.

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The two Scaup (left) with Pochard and Tufted Duck. No arrows required 😉

Time flies when you’re having fun, they say, and in this instance I agree. My final day volunteering at Frampton arrived and yielded a red-legged partridge from the office window. The journey home took a slight detour… to Spurn (as you do!), and so most of 22nd was spent exploring the area. A short sea watch may not have been that exciting to most, but it was enjoyable to have several red-throated divers, guillemot and razorbill on the sea, with others heading north too. A single puffin flying north was a nice bonus, and moments later a fulmar flew south – two species I’m still waiting for at Hill Head. Walking back along the canal, I was surprised to flush a short-eared owl that must’ve been sheltering rather close to the path, and paid the overwintering black brant a visit. It was good to watch the geese and remind myself how much black brant stand out from a flock of dark-bellied brent geese (with a pale-bellied mixed in as well).

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Black Brant, Kilnsea, 22nd February 2017

My time up north has come to an end for now. Who knows what’s next…

2 thoughts on “February 2017 in the North East

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