Welcome to the 220 for 2022 – March Update. Something of a challenging month for some competitors with bouts of illness and other personal issues rightfully taking priority over ticking birds. My own UK list was put on hold whilst I enjoyed a week or so in Extremadura, Spain (I’m not expecting any sympathy here). This trip was taken with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays and hosted by Martin Kelsey at his cosy retreat in a wonderfully rural area of this central Spanish province. The weather wasn’t as good as we hoped, but the birding was superb, more of that in a future article perhaps. Despite all, our intrepid band of participants did add to their tallies. My own efforts are as follows.
2nd March 2022 – A venture into Suffolk to visit the RSPB reserve at Minsmere with my friend Elizabeth Dack. Quite an overcast day and I don’t recall ever seeing the reserve car park so empty. Amazingly, we had the place to ourselves for the best part of the morning, until people realised the forecast monsoon hadn’t materialised and it was therefore safe to poke their noses outside. We walked around the scrapes which held good numbers of wildfowl and waders, but drew a blank with the long-staying Lesser Yellowlegs that apparently favours ‘Lucky Pool’, an area of flooded marsh towards Sizewell. No matter, we thought we’d give the beach scrub a good look to see if we could find a Dartford Warbler. Sadly, this was also a bust. Hmmm, what to do now then? Ah, a cuppa and a spot of lunch will put things right. And it worked in that we were munching our sandwiches close to ‘The Mound’ from where, on a tip off, we could watch a pair of Goosander fishing in a nearby pool. Beautiful birds. Great White Egret was also a new bird for the year. On the way home we stopped at a known Little Owl site, where after a while in the gathering gloom, we heard a single distant call. It all counts!
8th March 2022 – After a training session for us volunteers at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, I thought I’d take advantage of the welcome spring sunshine to see if I could track down a Treecreeper. The woodland trail leading down to what is affectionately named Gnarly Oak is a good place to encounter this small, unobtrusive species, especially if you remain quiet and still, look around carefully at every tree trunk and home in on any movement that attracts your eye. Employing this simple tactic eventually paid off handsomely when a small shape zipped past my head and alighted on a nearby tree. A Treecreeper, in spring-fresh finery commenced to shuffle up the trunk, poking its thin, decurved beak into every narrow nook in its quest for tiny insects and spiders hiding therein. I was able to watch it at close quarters as it constantly probed, prising away at loose flakes of bark, contorting its head to reach deep for juicy morsels. Its efforts were regularly rewarded, leading me to think how perilous life is for small sheltering invertebrates – survive the winter securely secreted away, and then……..
11th March 2022 – As I mused in last months update, this little challenge is, if nothing else, getting us participants out into the fresh air. Today ‘fresh’ hardly cut it, something like ‘blasted’ would be apt. Healthy airflows, or winds if you wish, are something of an ever present feature of North Norfolk, and today I was reminded of this quite starkly. However, it was sunny and bright, so no excuse for not donning appropriate warm clothing and stomping forth onto the wide, impressive expanse that is Holkham Bay.
My target here was Shorelark, a small party of which scurry around amongst the sand and scree every winter. Half a century ago, a wintering population of over 200 could be encountered along, what was then, a long stretch of remote and lonely coast. Even 20 years ago a flock of 100 wintered in Holkham Bay. In these days of easy accessibility and almost constant intrusion, just 4 birds crouch under the sparse grasses pecking around for fallen seed. The good news is that this quartet can usually be readily seen in a favoured area, sensibly roped off by trustees of the estate to give the birds a bit of breathing space and peace from the plethora of people and their equally numerous dogs. In fairness, everyone seems to observe the rules and I’ve never seen a dog, or a person for that matter, flout the advice to stay out of the protected area created to give wildlife a chance. So far, so good.
I reached the edge of the protected zone and scanned carefully with my scope – no Shorelarks. Ok then, perhaps they have moved closer to the dunes, but no luck there either. Not always easy to connect with small, creeping brown forms amongst acres of brown form, but it didn’t look very promising. I walked the perimeter of the enclosure, speaking to a few other birders as I progressed. Same story: shrugging of shoulders and shaking of heads. Oh well, some you win. some you lose. But, hang on, those little birds may not be Shorelarks, but they’re also not Meadow Pipits or Skylarks. They look like Rock Pipits, but one seems to be sporting a very colourful pinkish breast and a quite noticeable supercilium, could it be a migrating Water Pipit? Too far away to be certain, but I took some snaps hoping to blow them up on the PC later to confirm ID. Either species would be most welcome.
As I sauntered back towards the car I noticed a couple of birders scoping an area to the west. I had 20 minutes left on my car park ticket and these folk were half a mile away. Could I make it there and back and have a quick look? Why not. I got there to find those fellows had moved on, but scanned the acres of sand and shingle nonetheless. I could see nothing, so speed walked back to the car. Later, I noticed the Shorelarks had indeed been seen all day along the western side of the bay.
Onwards to the RSPB reserve at Titchwell. Here, I’m afraid the buffeting wind defeated me, bringing tears to my eyes every time I tried to look through bins or the scope. Most irritating. Moreover, the sea was anything but calm, adding further obstacles to finding small birds swimming within its broiling swell. A few Sanderling entertained for some while, and it was lovely to encounter a few common toads crawling to spawning grounds, but then it was retreat to a hide and seek sanctuary. There’s always something of interest around if you look hard enough, and here it took the form of the pale-bellied form, Branta bernicla hrota, of the Brent Goose. A singleton swimming away from the rest of the more familiar flock of dark-bellied birds (race bernicla). Doesn’t count as a separate species, but engaging in its own right. Time to head home and get some warmth.
Footnote: as I expected, the small pipits were indeed Rock Pipits, confirmed by members of the Norfolk Wildlife Facebook Group. The form littoralis being the designated identity, the lighter, more flesh coloured legs giving them away.
28th March 2022 – A dull, misty morning slowly gave way to sunny blue skies at Strumpshaw today. After my shift on Reception, I toddled off in search of the Garganey that had been present for a week or so. The walk through the woods was enlivened by the fluting of Blackcaps and the perky double note of Chiffchaffs, while the resident birds were trilling and singing as proclamation of ownership of their own patch. A deserted Sandy Wall, fringed with the bright yellow blooms of coltsfoot, produced a hunting stoat that twice bounded across the path in front of me, and the whistling display notes of Marsh Harrier carried on the breeze.
Just past the Sluice, a couple of people were intently focussed on some small forms swimming on the far side of Accidental Broad. A scan through binoculars revealed a trio of Garganey surreptitiously weaving through the reed fringe, 2 stunning drakes and a lovely duck sporting a bold face pattern. Further along, from Tower Hide, I watched a 2nd summer Little Gull buoyantly feeding, gracefully floating above the broad before stooping to deftly dip its beak into the water to pick off any emergent insect. This bird was in near adult plumage and sported a faint pinkish tinge to its breast feathering. I love spring.
So there you have it, a summary of my birding highlights for March. But what about the others?
Darren has concentrated a lot on his local patch, putting together a very impressive tally of 90 species located within a 5K radius of his home. A further dimension to the year takes the form of a garden list, which is an even more localised way of focussing our attention. He has written eloquently about how this challenge has provided an incentive to get out and explore on his blog, which you can link to here.
Sean is closing the gap with a month of steady scoring and some good birds. His blog unveils his exploits and encounters with waders, wildfowl and warblers. Have a read here.
Elizabeth has broken through the 100 barrier, and has recorded her sightings through the medium of her wonderful photography, some of which you can access here . You can also join my WingSearch Group via that link.
Poor Allan is propping up the table, although he too has reached three figures. His exciting new partnership with Old Buckenham Country Park seems to be distracting him from the task at hand. I knew work was a bad thing!
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