Sponsored Birdwatch 2017


December didn’t seem to last long this year with Christmas week upon us rather suddenly. The dream team for the Christmas Eve Birdwatch this year was Roger Skeen, Irene Boston, Connor Rand and David Roche, who were all up for a day of beetling round Holme and surrounding villages to try and find as many different species as possible.

In a sense the pressure was off this year as in 2016 we had managed an all-time record of 110 species for the birdwatch, courtesy of a selection of rare geese hanging out near Docking. But none of these were back in 2017 and so we never were going to equal that! The lack of local rarities made general success more important, with many sponsors again offering incentives of bonuses for 100+ species. With another mild spell of weather arriving a few days before, coupled with 20+mph westerly winds, things weren’t going to be too easy - it's more difficult to hear birds, to find them on the waves offshore, and it doesn’t suit hunting birds either. We needed luck!

My morning began with an alarm set for 6am - it's still pitch dark at 6 this time of year but the Tawny Owls just next to my lodgings have been very active recently and I wanted time to pick up their calls. Having heard them a few days running I wondered if by some cruel trick they might not oblige, but they first called at about 7am and continued for about an hour after! Owing to a clear night sky it was starting to get light strangely early and I went for my first walk outside at about 7.15. I wanted to try and get a Barn Owl hunting in the field just along Marsh Lane. No luck with this to start with but I did hear Robin, Blackbird, Dunnock, Teal and Gadwall along the path to the village hides.

Roger and Irene arrived just as I wandered back to get my phone, and their first contribution was a lengthy debate about what turned out to be a plastic bag (resembling a Barn Owl) on a fence post in the field behind! 10 out of 10 for enthusiasm... Then a local chicken was the next thing we heard, followed by some more authentic Pink-feet, a pair of Little Egrets flying east directly above our heads, and then we went along to the hides together. The Barn Owl had appeared by now and was a very welcome addition. In the first hide we got some important bogey species - a Cetti's Warbler was singing to the west of us, a Grey Heron dropped in, and a Kingfisher peeped and flew over the pool. Several Marsh Harriers were already active, but unsurprisingly there was no sign of the ring-tail which had showed so well at the Observatory only the day before. A more helpful Common Buzzard passed low over the trees and Coot, Moorhen, Mallard, Linnet, Greenfinch were all noted, the species began to roll off the list. Roger saw a Mute Swan dropping onto the marsh out of sight, and I was looking the wrong way, but a really nice surprise came in the form of a Peregrine heading east, picked up by Irene, a group pf Golden Plover coming over the marsh, and as we walked back pleased with our start we found the Barn Owl sitting on the fence right in front of us. Perhaps this wasn’t going to be the struggle we'd feared?

Back at the top of Marsh Lane the tit flock was approaching, adding Long-tailed Tit, and as we left for the Golf Course we added Collared Dove and House Sparrow in the village. The Golf Course can be a very useful source of good species and this time it yielded up Guillemot, Great Black-backed Gull, Turnstone, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Fulmar, Fieldfare and Cormorant. We loitered here but didn’t add a great deal else so we went on down to Gore Point. Here Rock Pipit, Wigeon, Little Grebe, and finally Mute Swan all obliged at this stop, and offshore we had a group of Eider, Red-breasted Merganser and Great Crested Grebe together with an odd Common Scoter, lots more Fulmars, and a Razorbill which was new for the day. We headed on down to the car park hide where we failed to find any Pochard or Tufted Duck. Not deterred, we carried on to the Observatory which was right in the teeth of the wind and not a nice place to be at all! Three Knot flew along the edge of the Broadwater and Roger and I walked through the wood in the hope of catching a glimpse of one of our two wintering Blackcaps - but they were both sulking out of sight in the cold wind. In truth the dell area was just far too windy for small birds, but we did add a Coal Tit on the edge of the area. We headed for our third look at the sea and as the tide was starting to go out we were able to add some (very) distant Sanderling and with them, a characteristic blob we all agreed was in fact a Ringed Plover - another bogey bird for the day added. This was soon followed by a breath-taking Merlin hunt, our persistent raptor pursuing an unfortunate Sanderling around and around and out over the sea. It finally caught its prey. We could add no more but couldn’t complain, and left the Observatory, picking up Kestrel on the way out.

We decided to head to Ringstead Downs and Courtyard Farm to pick up some wood and farmland birds. On the way out we found a large covey of Red-legged Partridges on the west end of Holme, and a brief stop at Green Lane added Yellowhammer, Corn Bunting and Pied Wagtail. At the Downs there wasn’t a great deal of activity but a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over the valley and David found a Treecreeper that was calling near the quarry picnic area. Connor had to leave us at this point, but Roger had a site for Tree Sparrow and here we added an unexpected Red Kite, together with the hoped for Tree Sparrows, Redwing and Song Thrush. From here we went to another site where Roger hoped for Brambling, but none obliged and we headed back into Thornham for a brief stop at Drove Orchards where Green Woodpecker and Mistle Thrush were possible. But again these weren’t coming out to play, and we carried on to Thornham harbour. We didn’t find the Twite straight away, a flock of Linnets were trying to impersonate them on the first corner of the sea wall, but the flock did appear in reasonable time further west, and our visit also allowed us to add Shelduck and Dunlin from the Harbour. Two species were beginning to make their absence felt; Stonechat and Grey Partridge. But neither was anywhere near Staithe Lane, and we needed to get to Titchwell before too much more of the day had gone.

Arriving at Titchwell our first thought as usual was food, and generous bacon butties and a near-criminal confection known as 'baileys torte' were purchased, washed down with a festive hot chocolate, as we sat appropriately at the feeding station! Siskin and Brambling both presented themselves in the alders behind the visitors' centre as we watched, and Roger had some plans with talk of a tame Water Rail. We totalled up the list - 90. This was a nice surprise, we had made a lot of stops and most of them had added something but knowing what we might add at Titchwell there seemed to be hope of a ton after all!

As we walked out past the cafe there were Greylag geese on the marsh, and as we proceeded around to Patsy's Pool we found Tufted Duck and on our way back a Chiffchaff which David and Roger had heard on their way through, put in a beautifully timed call right in my left ear. As we went out past the island hide we found Pintail, Pochard, Avocet, Water Pipit, and Egyptian Goose in among the Golden Plovers and Lapwing. We were on 98, with the sea still to go. A Spotted Redshank had been seen on the tidal pool and we headed on past the Parrinder hide in the hope of adding that. But despite our best efforts there was no Spotted Redshank to be found and so we carried on out to the sea. Here David quickly called out a Med Gull which was with Black-heads on the beach, and at the same time Roger found Goldeneye. Then we were looking longingly for Long-tailed Ducks. Irene found a pair first, and as I've observed in the past they do seem capable of appearing out of nowhere, even when you've been looking a very long time. We had some lovely views, and having exceeded 100 we could relax a bit. We scoured the beach for a while longer but couldn’t add any more sea or shorebirds, so we decided to regroup at the Parrinder hide where we could go through the gulls and I could check my list.

As we turned back Roger picked up a sub-adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, and pleased with this we tramped back in the icy wind to Parrinder hide, where my list confirmed 102. It was a relief to sit down in a sheltered place, and as we sat enjoying the view of the islands covered in birds, something flushed them and the Spotted Redshank called out. Another bonus! We agreed to go back out and look for a Hen Harrier which we did until we were pretty cold but it was getting dark and there was no sign of anything new. We tried again along the ditches for the tame Water Rail but it wasn’t on Roger's side this time. In the car park we waited hoping for a Woodcock, and we thought we may have heard a Bullfinch but never were convinced. Finally in a flurry 2 Woodcock did come over heading for the back of the car park.

I believed this left us on 104 but when I got home to check on the day’s species list I realised that I'd forgotten Red Kite doesn’t feature on the sponsor form list. So we had in fact seen 105, and the Tawnies were calling their heads off as I finished checking through the list. Given that we missed out on Hen Harrier, Jay, Green Woodpecker, Mistle Thrush, Snow Bunting, Velvet Scoter, Canada Goose, Slavonian Grebe and many more common birds, the main absentees this year were Stonechat and Grey Partridge, grrr. But what a result, and without any suspicious geese!

And as I’m typing this up, there’s a Stonechat on the handrail right outside…

Well that’s birds for you!

Oh look, now there’s two!

Happy New Year












































































































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