American ‘Goldie’

All three Golden Plover sp. – European, Pacific & American on the Norfolk Year List! By the time we’d got back from Norwich this morning, the identity of the ‘Golden Plover’ at Breydon had been firmed up as American. A hasty lunch and we were off. To our amazement there was no-one actually watching the bird by the time we arrived at the site. If it hadn’t been for the guy in the car park, who told us it was with the Lapwing flock, we may never have found it, as it departed fifteen minutes after we got back to the car. The bird was reasonably close (well, by Breydon Water standards that is!) and, in the constant drizzle, gave prolonged views. Good enough at least to see the overall structure – long primary projection, and plumage detail – bold/broad ‘super’, dark cap & ear coverts, pale nape patch and greyish mantle.

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American Golden Plover, juvenile – Breydon Water

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‘Sibe’ Stonechat

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Siberian Stonechat – Caister on Sea

It was too late to go for the Siberian Stonechat at Caister on Sea last night, so we just had to sit tight and hope that it got reported this morning – which it did! This was a Norfolk ‘tick’ for me so emotions were running a little high in the car but we needn’t have worried, I saw the bird as soon as I crested the first sand dune, sitting atop a lump of burnt gorse. A strikingly pale-looking male with warm buff/brown upper parts and pinkish buff underparts, set off by a charcoal face & tail and rose white rump – maurus I assume. However, disturbed by dog-walkers, it went and hid for some time before becoming active again along a 300m length of gorse hedge, bordering the golf course. Although it gave excellent views at times, I never managed to be in quite the right place for a decent digipic – lovely bird all the same.

Whilst we were standing waiting for it to reappear we were treated to super views of a Short-eared Owl, fresh in off the North Sea. We took the coast road on our way home and were delight to find a female ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier quartering the fields just south of Horsey Mill. A couple of miles up the coast we came across another, and the hoped for immature Rough-legged Buzzard. Not a bad mornings work I’d say!

‘New arrival’ – Short-eared Owl, fresh in off the North Sea

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A couple more grab shots, the latter is terrible I know, but shows the pale rump to perfection!

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Norfolk’s Awesome Autumn

It’s been an exceptional week for autumn migrants, along the north Norfolk coast. Starting last Sunday with the Isabelline Shrike at Beeston, the birding action has been pretty continuous since then. We’ve had our long-time birding buddies Bob & Sue staying with us for the past few days and have spent most of our time on the coastal strip between Sheringham and Wells, searching out some of the rarities. It’s not been a good time for photography however – many of the subjects only offering up brief views, but we’ve eventually managed to see most things well and boost our respective Norfolk, Year and UK Lists in the process. Highlights have included Isabelline Shrike, Pallas’s Warbler x2, Red-flanked Bluetail x2, Hume’s Leaf Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, Blyth’s Reed Warbler and Olive-backed Pipit. It’s hard to imagine a better week for autumn migrants but, with favourable weather patterns persisting, who knows what else might turn up!

My only photo offering is of this Olive-backed Pipit, Muckleborough Hill – a bit of a ‘creeper’ this one. On the best afternoon for photography my camera developed a malfunction from the morning’s rain, oh well!

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Isabelline Shrike

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Isabelline Shrike, Beeston Common – 11th October, 2015

Today was the NENBC walk around Cley NWT looking for migrants. It was a morning of moderate success, with Brambling and Ring Ouzel (heard only) in Walsey Hills, Short-eared Owl – fresh in off the sea and a couple of Wheatear along East Bank being the highlights. Well that was the morning, the afternoon was decidedly hotter! As no one wanted to go onto the reserve in the afternoon, we’d just decided to go on to ‘pastures new’ when the pager announced an Isabelline Shrike at Beeston Common! We were amongst the first to arrive and enjoyed spanking views. Unfortunately I’d only got my compact camera with me, so had to be content with a few quick digipics.

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The day ended with a quick whizz along to Sheringham Golf Course, for a Pallas’s Warbler!

Hortobágy Highlights

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Cranes flying to roost – Hortobagy Fish Ponds

We’ve spent the last few days in the wonderful Hortobagy area of Hungary, close to the Romanian border. The whole area is an immense plain with steppes, shallow marshland and fishponds, threaded through with wooded river valleys. It’s a birders paradise, with a range of species typical of the remnant eastern European steppes, and raptors everywhere. In autumn, over 70,000 Cranes gather,  making this one of Europe’s most impressive birding spectacles. (Postscript – this year’s count looks like being closer to 100,000!)

We flew with Wizz Air, on their recently established route from Luton to Debrecen, hired a car from Hertz – there are no ‘on airport’ providers currently operating and stayed at the Bibic Eco Lodge (English version of the website coming soon!) in Balmazujvaros. The Lodge, which has only opened in the last few months, provides an excellent standard of accommodation and meals. Our hosts Tibor and his wife speak fluent English, are knowledgeable birders and could not have been more helpful or friendly. The Lodge provides an excellent secure, comfortable and relaxing birding base – perfectly located to explore the Hortobagy.

Although the primary objective of the trip was to experience the spectacular Crane migration, we did see 116 species in our four day stay, including two Western Palearctic ticks – Saker Falcon & Eastern Imperial Eagle, along with a supporting cast, which included: Lesser White-fronted & Bean Goose, White-tailed Eagle, Pallid Harrier, Red-footed Falcon, Long-legged Buzzard, Great Bustard, Ferruginous Duck, Whiskered Tern, Caspian Gull, Red-throated Pipit, Moustached Warbler, Penduline Tit & Syrian Woodpecker!

Here are a few photos to whet your appetite!

First stop was for the Long-eared Owl roost near the town park. They get up to 300 birds in winter – we only saw 22!

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First of our two Western Pal. ‘ticks’, Saker Falcon – one, of a couple of pairs we saw

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This is their food source, Suslik – a sort of Ground Squirrel. Abundant on the dry puszta

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Common Buzzard abound but this was the only Long-legged Buzzard we came across

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Red-backed Shrike were seen in reasonable numbers throughout the Hortobagy – all juveniles

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Hen Harrier are a regular winter visitor, we saw a couple of ‘ring-tails’ and this fine male hunting over arable fields near Nadudvar

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We were lucky enough to find this Pallid Harrier near the Hortobagy Fish Ponds

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On our second day with Jozsef we started on the puszta, looking for Dotterel, which gather here to moult

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Along with a few Stone Curlew – both species are very difficult to find on the vast expanses of grassland. These were two of six we located.

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In the afternoon our expert guide found us our second target raptor species of the tour – a 3rd/4th year Eastern Imperial Eagle

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and here, being over-flown by Cranes

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Another highlight of our trip were Great Bustard – not seen since a trip to Extremadura, Spain nearly twenty years ago. Here are some of the sixteen birds present in this remote arable location.

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There are plenty of birds to be found in and around the huge complex of fish ponds – some of which have public access (provided you obtain a permit) but most can only be visited in the company of a guide. Spoonbill, Egret and Heron sp. are numerous but this was the only Purple Heron we came across

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Both Bearded and Penduline Tit are common in the vast reed beds which surround the fish ponds

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Other specialities include, Pygmy Cormorant

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Whiskered Tern

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and Moustached Warbler

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We were fortunate that, on the day before our arrival, 120 Lesser White-fronted Geese also arrived, for their all too brief stop-over on the hortobagy, before moving on to winter in Northern Greece. We caught up with them on the Hortobagy Fish Ponds

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We also found the first returning Bean Goose (rossicus) of the autumn and this flock of regular White-fronted Geese

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Staying at the fish ponds until dusk, to watch the thousands of Cranes arrive to roost, was a most memorable highlight of our trip

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They were not alone though, one of several patrolling White-tailed Eagle

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We would never have been able to find/see many of these excellent birds if it weren’t for the great organisation of Janos at Saker Tours and, in particular, our expert and hard-working guide, Jozsef. Thank you to everyone who made our brief trip such a pleasant and rewarding one – we will be back!

Sunset over the Hortobagy

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