A Siberian vagrant

It’s a long drive from Scotland to north Norfolk, but there’s some wonderful scenery on the way. I had decided to visit a site in County Durham on my way back and so I got on the road reasonably early, had a charging stop near Perth, and finally got to the village of Willington, just south of Durham, at 3pm.

Many good birdwatching sites are in odd places – bits of habitat on the edges of urban areas that can easily be overlooked. This particular place was a section of the river Wear just by the local sewage works! These places – not obvious tourist attractions it has to be said – are, however, nearly always a rich habitat for birds, and, with good mixed woodland and a river as well, this was excellent…if you ignored the faint but pervasive underlying smell!

I was there to try to see a Siberian vagrant that has been hanging around for a few weeks, and since it would be a new bird for my life list and the location was not really out of my way at all, I found myself hunting for a tiny bird on a river bank by a sewage farm!

And the bird: a Pallas’ leaf warbler, a lovely bird similar to a goldcrest. In looking for it I saw several goldcrests, plus blue, great, coal and long-tailed tits, several bullfinches, a great spotted woodpecker and a sparrowhawk. Then suddenly there it was – what I had thought would be another goldcrest turned around and there were the distinctive head markings. A new bird for me and for 2023.

The field guide says that Pallas’ warblers flit around even more quickly than goldcrests do, and this certainly seemed to be true of this bird: it was difficult enough to find it and follow it with binoculars, but finding it with my telephoto lens was extremely tricky, and getting it in focus….impossible. I think it would need a lot of time and a lot of patience: I had the patience but not the time today! And so I include, for your amusement, the best photo I managed to get. First the full photo and then an enlarged section to show the bird. It is – just – recognisable; look it up online and you’ll be able to see what it really looks like.

The trees with a Pallas’ leaf warbler in the centre; below the warbler enlarged and out of focus!

Brenda writes: “After four very busy days I was determined to have a walk this afternoon although the drizzle and cold wind in the morning wasn’t promising. But by lunchtime the sun had come out and I headed off to Holkham Park with the intention of doing the complete circuit round the lake, something I rarely do.

It really is a lovely habitat and particularly nice when there are very few people around. Because the park was laid out in the 18th century there is now some wonderful old woodland with gnarled trees, piles of dead wood, and tree stumps.

Knarled trees in Holkham Park

The estate have put in some information boards, a mix of information about the habitat and what wildlife we might see, and also background about the history of the estate and how the landscape has changed. When I got to the lake I decided to walk round it in an anticlockwise direction. The causeway at the north end is always a good spot for birdwatching (I saw 11 species from one spot) and in the sunlight the lake is very beautiful.

Part of Holkham Hall lake

I didn’t go up to St Withburga’s Church today, but carried on towards the Hall, getting great views of both as I walked. Coming back along the east side of the lake there were loads of oystercatchers on the grass and it’s always nice to see the small resident flock of barnacle geese. A little further on were my first chicks of the year; a pair of Egyptian geese with two young, closely followed by a barn owl flying across the lake and then going ahead of me hunting among the trees and scrub along the bank. In the course of the walk I saw 28 species of bird and also heard several nuthatches and a great spotted woodpecker drumming.”

New species for February 23rd:
Birds: Pallas’ leaf warbler

Birds = 130
Moths = 5
Wildflowers = 19