Friday, June 25, 2010

"Norfolk is flat, very flat"

Just as I began working on my England and Wales blog entries, I had a computer catastrophe!  My motherboard shorted out, but at first I didn't know that and I thought I may have lost all of my trip photos.  Now my laptop is in the shop and my photos have been dowloaded to a new hard drive while I wait for my laptop to be repaired.  Fortunately, I had these photos already downloaded for a blog entry, so here it is.

I've been home nearly a week and I have dragged my feet, probably secondary to travel fatigue and work being busy upon my return.   I've also not been able to think of a clear narrative with which to write about my birding in England and (later) in Wales.

I think this may be because it was a non-birding trip that had a lot of birding.  I visited friends who were not birders.  In fact, I clearly recall an early email to discuss planning where my friend, Cliff, reminded me that, under no uncertain terms, he and Joy were not birders.  I recall responding that I knew this and that was perfectly fine.  So, with this out of the way early, then plans began to be made and, well frankly, our travel included visits to many wonderful Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) sites in Norfolk, Suffolk and Wales.  I think Joy and Cliff must have finally thought - well, she wants to go birding, so let's take her birding. Indeed, we turned out to be on a birding trip after all. The title of this blog entry comes from a comment Cliff made several times.  "Norfolk is flat, very flat.  We don't like flat." 

We spent the first three days in Leamington Spa where Joy and Cliff live.  I caught up with my jet lag, took some photos in their backyard (see my earlier blog posted during the first couple of days) and we visited local walking and birding places.  We had lunch out at a nice pub on Sunday and I had my first pint of bitter in nearly 20 years.

Tuesday morning, June 8th, day one of our drive to Norfolk, arrived with plenty of rain.  We sort of dillydallied getting out the door.  Not much point in rushing to an early start when it's pouring.  Despite the rain we finally did get our the door.  First stop: Rutland Water Nature Reserve in Rutland County.  For most English birders the draw here are nesting Ospreys which have been recently reintroduced to England.  The pair at Rutland Water have been successful and currently have nestlings which has pleased everyone.  As we know, the Osprey is a  beautiful bird.  The visitor center had a scope focused on their nest.  I'll make another observation about this in a later post.       


The one decent photo I got at Rutland Water was of the Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) above.  This is, I think, the most common bird in England.  Initially, I had difficulty finding them, but the male bird sings all day and they became easy to see once I figured out their habits.  At least at this time of year, they are far more common than the house sparrow or starling (I don't know what it's like in late summer and fall when Chaffinch stop singing and starlings begin flocking).  As you can see from the photo above, a completely charming and beautiful bird - wonderful to have as the most common. 


The bird on the wire is a Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus).  While I saw this bird many times, including once very close at Hinkley Broads when I did not have my camera (?!?), this finally is the only photo I got of the bird.  It was probably also one of my favorite birds.  As I write this, I am still kicking myself at not having my camera when I was all alone with a singing Reed Bunting only twelve feet away.


At first, the identification of the bird above confused me.  It is a Dunnock - formerly known commonly as the Hedge Accentor.  I was using two field guides, one old and one new.  Turns out that Hedge Accentor and Dunnock are one and the same, Prunella modularis. Another clearer photo is in my first blog post.  I include this particular photo for the more natural habitat and because I like the rain drops that are clinging to the thorn branch.  Did I say it was raining this day?

Tuesday night we stayed near Rutland Water at the Barnsdale Hall Hotel, an old country estate converted into a hotel and resort, and departed Wednesday morning for our next stop, Titchwell Marsh RSPB in Norfolk.  For mid-week, I found Titchwell quite crowded with birders. We all liked this RSPB very much.  


Sky Lark (Aluada arvensis), Sky Lark, ah beautiful Sky Lark!  Common in their meadow habitat of which there seems to be plenty.  Even in this terrible silhouetted photo above you can see the beak of the bird open in song - the very song that captivated Wordsworth, Shelley and so many other poets of the great age of English poetry.  


While I like all birds, those who know me as a birder, know that I like little birds best.  Songbirds and shorebirds.  So, when I see a little bird, like the common Linnet (Carduelis cannabina) above for the first time, I find it thrilling.  And, to get such a photo of a bird that was not all that close; well, this is the icing on the whole experience for me.  They fly around in little flocks, like our goldfinch and redpolls (same genus), and I became familiar with recognizing them on the wing and hearing their little twitters.


Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) is, arguably, one of the more difficult birds to see in England.  It has a small range and, of course, being a bittern, is naturally difficult to see. Word got out about this bird and soon people were lining the trail just across the marsh from this bird on the hunt. The bird was not deterred by the presence of so many people and did, indeed, catch a fish which my friend, Cliff, caught on camera. 


The [Pied] Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) also has a limited range in England.  Like our avocet, it is a pleasure to see.  It is essentially the same size and has the same sweeping foraging habits.  We saw many of these at Titchwell and later, with young, at Minsmere RSPB.


Finally, this hunting, graceful [Eurasian] Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) was seen hunting over Cley Marshes Nature Reserve on Thursday, 06-10-2010.  We went here to see if we could find Bearded Tits, which we had seen very distantly at Titchwell.  It was too windy on this day for finding Bearded Tits, but this kestrel hunting over the marshes was the first good look I got at their kestrel.  We also got our first good look at Marsh Harriers (Circus aeruginosus) here.  We never did see Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus), despite reports of one hunting at Titchwell.  Our Northern Harrier, or their Hen Harrier, (Circus cyaneus) is seen only in winter in this region of the country.

Finally, an anecdote to end this blog entry.  To end the day on Wednesday, 06-09-10, we visited Snettisham RSPB and, even as it threatened to rain (and did rain), we hiked out a long path to the North Sea.  At the beginning of the hike, Joy noticed a new bird with just its head and neck visible and asked, "Oh, what's that?  It look's like some kind of goose."  Cliff responded, "No, it's a shelduck.  I saw this bird at Rutland."  I didn't know what it was and took a photo.  After dinner, and back at our hotel, the Heacham Manor, I was reviewing my photos and decided to delete the photo of the unknown bird.  I didn't know what it was and besides I had only the head and neck - which is all we saw of the bird - in the photo.  Delete.  Still later that same night, I was reviewing my field guide and came across Egyptian Goose.  The bird we had seen was an Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus).  Though an introduced species from Africa, it is a breeding bird just in this corner of Norfolk.  I had deleted my only photo of the one Egyptian Goose we saw the whole trip.  The description in the old Larousse Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland describes the Egyptian Goose this way - "more like a shelduck than a goose."  The next morning at breakfast I shared this discovery with Joy and Cliff and we all had a good laugh.    

Next:  Suffolk and Minsmere RSPB.  

1 comment:

Jerry Jourdan said...

Welcome home, Cathy! I've missed your posts. Good luck w/ the computer.
Jerry