Welcome to the 220 for 2022 – May Update. The darling birds of May, or something like that; the peak of spring migration, so anything is possible. It’s simply a question of getting out there and hoping you happen to be in the right place at the right time. In that regard I didn’t do too badly at all.
3rd May 2022 – a visit to Sheringham for fish & chips included a bonus of flyover Fulmar. There is a small breeding population of these large petrels along this stretch of the coast. They nest precariously on ledges of the crumbling sandy cliffs, unlike which the population seems stable. Further west at Hunstanton, there is a sizeable breeding colony utilising the two tone chalk/carrstone cliffs for nesting purposes. It is always a delight to watch them effortlessly wheel around, gliding on stiff, aerodynamically perfect wings.
4th May 2022 – the first of several trips to the wonderful Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve at Hickling, where the newly created Brendan’s Marsh continues to act as a magnet for all kinds of waders. Today, whilst being serenaded by Cuckoos and bugling Common Cranes, a Greenshank piped its triple call note as it flew by somewhere close. Not seen, but unmistakable.
6th May 2022 – Hickling again, this time coming up trumps with Black-winged Stilt and Wood Sandpiper. The stilt was joined by three others a couple of days later, so there is much optimism that they may pair up and breed this year. No pics of these particular birds I’m afraid, they were simply too far away.
9th May 2022 – a short drive after my shift at Strumpshaw allowed me and Sean good views of a Ring Ouzel that was obligingly hopping around in the old quarry at Buckenham. Sean was cock-a-hoop to add this to his year list, a Ring Ouzel is always nice to see. Later, whilst scanning the skies from my study window, I had the unmistakable silhouette of a Swift zip through my field of vision. As the evening progressed, at least 5 of these most welcome birds were hawking around above the rooftops of Sprowston, checking out their breeding sites for the year. So good to have them back with us.
11th May 2022 – a 10 mile walk with Ros along the footpaths around her village in South Norfolk. The loose aim was to try and beat her record of 52 species she had seen on a May morning last year. Sadly, it wasn’t to be, mainly due to the the cool, overcast day with occasional showers. We did manage 35 or so species, which of course will add to her 5K list, but most importantly we heard a purring Turtle Dove.
14th May 2022 – Global Big Day which I participated in with my mate Allan as part of the Waderquest team. We restricted our birding to the Brecks, essentially visiting just three sites: Lynford Arboretum, Weeting Heath and Lakenheath Fen. I will produce a full account in due course, but our efforts recorded 84 species, of which three were new for year: Spotted Flycatcher, Tree Pipit and White Stork. We worked pretty hard all day for these, leaving me with the distinct impression that finding birds is getting more and more difficult. There seems to be so many species now that are so hard to locate, and occur as singles only. On this day, we failed to connect with a Turtle Dove, while Dunnock was ticked very late in the afternoon and Greenfinch not at all. There’s always bogey birds on Big Day runs, but there is definitely something seriously amiss.
16th May 2022 – a Yellow Wagtail fest, or what passes for one nowadays. You can read a full account here. I also spent some time with my new camera and lens, trying to snap Sand Martins as they collected loose grasses and small twigs for their nests on Happisburgh cliff tops.
20th-22nd May 2022 – time to spread the wings a bit and try to see some of those species that are difficult, or impossible in Norfolk. Yorkshire had the privilege of our company for a couple of days, with the main aim to try and see the Black-browed Albatross that has returned for the summer to Bempton Cliffs. First stop though was the RSPB reserve at St Aiden’s in search of Black-necked Grebes. After a 3 mile yomp, we eventually saw a pair of these lovely little aquatics, albeit from some distance. I was impressed with the size of this wetland reserve, the legacy of open cast mining, but wish we had chosen the shorter route to the grebes!
A lovely day on the North York Moors, apart from being interesting in its own right, also allowed additions to the birdy list courtesy of several Red Grouse idly feeding close to public footpaths, and a lovely young Dipper that entertained as it hunted for aquatic insects in a stream. The grouse had chicks in tow, but seemed very unconcerned with humans walking near, simply crouching down and blending into the heather if they judged too close an approach. Unlike Darren’s experiences with the uplands around County Durham, the North York Moors seemed quite diverse with plenty of old woodland bordering enchanting river valleys. Even on the sheep gnawed high moors, populations of birds such as Meadow Pipits, Lapwing and Wheatears seemed healthy, as well as (we were told) being one of the best places in the UK to see Merlins. But I don’t have any historical context, so am no judge.
Also great to see House Martins building their mud nests under window ledges of the visitor centre.
We missed the albatross at Bempton, it had presumably gone fishing for a spell, but the other inhabitants of the tall cliffs made for an exhilarating day. I never tire of seabird colonies, the constant movement, the smells and the sounds. Whirring masses of pristine plumaged Gannets, wailing Kittiwakes, smaller auks, the Puffins, Razorbills and Guillemots, jostling for space. All is an assault on the senses, making for an unforgettable experience. Needless to say, the albatross returned to the cliffs a few hours after we departed for home. Some you win, some you lose.
23rd May 2022 – It was distant, but there was no mistaking the fact this was a real rarity. The bird, a White-tailed Lapwing no less, had been frequenting Brendan’s Marsh at Hickling for a couple of days, and now was its turn to be ticked by yours truly. It’s always the same with these trips, or twitch if you prefer, to see a special bird. Will it still be there? Will I manage to see it if it is? What if the blasted thing disappears a few minutes before I arrive? It didn’t and I did manage to view it, albeit from a distance as the scruffy pic below will testify. This bird should really have been going about its business somewhere in Central Asia, but instead has been knocking around Lincs and Norfolk for several months. Very elegant, long-legged and lost. The local Lapwings didn’t like it, repeatedly dive bombing the poor thing. It won’t hang around for long, and I’m glad I made the effort to see it.
24th May 2022 – Spied a pair of Grey Partridge this morning courtesy of my mate Allan, whose tenure at Old Buckenham Country Park has thrown up these surprise residents. Later in the evening a return to Hickling, after sitting out a quite dramatic hail storm, allowed a distant view of the Caspian Tern that eluded me yesterday. This ticking business is using up a lot of valuable petrol!
28th May 2022 – Lazily logged into the Rare Bird Alert this morning to discover the first entry relating to a Lesser Grey Shrike that was inhabiting the perimeter fence of Norwich Airport. I could virtually see it from the house, so it would have been rude not to go and have a proper look. A short while later, I was standing with a cluster of fellow birders watching this handsome waif from Eastern Europe catching insects from various exposed perches. The location for this bit of local twitching afforded no nearby parking, positioned as it was on a slip road to the busy NDR, otherwise known as the local butchery, if you happen to count the dead animals and birds strewn along its roundabout plagued length (I hate this useless road). Anyway, this is by far the most unusual bird I’ve ever seen locally, and happily it just falls within the 5K from home circle so can be included in those stats. Not wishing to disturb the bird, the group I was with contented themselves with a few distant record shots, but I noted later that some folk had obviously crept as close as possible in order to get their pics. My thanks to the sharp-eyed individual that spotted this gem, presumably from a fast moving vehicle.
30th May 2022 – a trip to the wilds of West Norfolk, the borders of the Wash in fact, to see if the Great Reed Warbler that has been clattering its song from the dyke side reeds at Snettisham for a fortnight, was still there. It was. In fact, the aforementioned song could be heard well before we, (Elizabeth and I), reached the actual patch of reeds this lost, but persistent, bird considers its temporary home. The last time I listened to one of these chunky, stout-billed, reed warblers was in Hungary 6 years ago, so a little rusty, but identification was pretty straightforward; no other small bird in the UK, bar the Nightingale, sings with such sustained gusto. It was interesting to watch this bird shuffling towards the top of the reeds to deliver its soliloquy (for alas there will be no other of its kind to hear), opening its beak wide to expose the bright orange lining and turning its head from side to side to ensure maximum dispersal of the notes. Once again, only a distant shot, but I think it captures the feel of the thing.
After our fill of the Great Reed Warbler, we walked slowly back to the car, taking time to watch a hunting Barn Owl and a pair of Stonechats feeding their young. Turtle Doves were purring from the acres of ideal habitat, and overall I was favourably impressed with this rather wonderful reserve, this southern end of which I’ve never explored.
We ended the day with a visit to the excellent Hawk & Owl Trust reserve at Sculthorpe Moor. Here, we were able to watch Bullfinches at close quarters as well as having brief views of another Barn Owl.
That’s it for me, a rather busy and rewarding month. Let’s have a look at how the other participants in this jolly wheeze have fared.
Young Darren has had a bumper month with some excellent sightings from the north of England. He has provided us with an evocative summary of his adventures, with some interesting and thought provoking reflections on how our uplands are being systematically destroyed. He sees it first hand on a regular basis, as well as conducting bird surveys there, so is well placed to make informed observations. If you are of a mind that our uplands are still ‘beautiful’ I would beg to differ, and urge you to read his account here.
Tim is motoring along nicely and joins me and Darren in a 3-way tie for top spot. Perhaps this wouldn’t be a surprise with us two Norfolk based birders, after all we would be seeing pretty much the same stuff, but Darren lives 250 miles north and has seen different species in different habitats. An interesting coincidence, but one that serves to maintain a very healthy competitive edge.
Sean had his UK ticking interrupted by a trip to the Spanish Pyrenees, where he wasted valuable time spotting things like Lammergeiers (lucky boy). Despite this Iberian distraction, (and his rejected plea to be able to count everything he saw in Spain), he still broke the 150 barrier and has provided an entertaining account of his exploits which you can read here. Oh, and the drawing he refers to is indeed on display at Strumpshaw and is quite fantastic.
Elizabeth has added some good birds, and has photographed most of them. You can see her work on the WingSearch Facebook Group page here. While you’re about it, you are most welcome to join the group and add your own pics, observations or wildlife related experiences.
Poor Allan will insist on prioritising work over bird listing, so has fallen a little behind. However, he has still managed Nightingale, Grey Wagtail, Red Kite, Grey Partridge and an obliging Cuckoo whilst earning a crust, as well as discovering a rare weevil and inspiring people with his knowledge and enthusiasm. The White Stork we saw together at Lakenheath was a lifer for him as well, so not too disappointing overall.
Ros is another one of those people who seem to think working for a living and bringing up a lovely family is important enough to limit birding to local walks and the odd day out. With this attitude it is no surprise she has struggled to keep up with wrinkled old gits like me who have nothing better to do with their time. That reminds me, I must mow the lawn sometime this summer. Despite this dereliction, she has an impressive local list which includes Barn Owls, Turtle Doves and Stock Doves in the garden.
|Participant||Overall Score||5K Challenge||Garden List|
So there it is, 5 months in and looking good. It’s going to get progressively more difficult to keep this scoring rate up, especially now spring migration is pretty much over. But hey, there’s still butterflies, dragonflies, wild flowers and other things to keep us interested. There might even be the odd exotic bird to be seen as well. Until next month……….