Flying high

Today Brenda dropped me off in Holkham village on her way to do a service in Holkham Hall Chapel. As she pulled over to let me get out of the car she saw a large bird of prey in a tree by the road and thought it was the white-tailed eagle again. However as I got out of the car and saw it, it turned out to be a surprisingly pale common buzzard. Brenda now feels that this was most likely the bird she saw last week and so she probably hasn’t actually seen the eagle herself, as I was on my own when I saw it.

I guess it’s like her checking some of her moth findings with James Halsey (as mentioned yesterday) – it helps to avoid errors. So checking bird sightings with me works for Brenda: She knows a lot of species, but hasn’t done as much birdwatching as I have…..and similarly I often find it helpful to ask other birders about a sighting if I see something and am not completely certain of the identification. It’s a good way to learn.

Interestingly buzzards come in many different plumage guises (or morphs), and there does seem to be a particularly light coloured one at Holkham at the moment – I must try to get a photo of it.

a fairly typical common buzzard – some can be either much darker or much lighter (photo taken 2013)

So I walked down Lady Anne’s Drive with good views of birds like marsh harrier, kestrel, wigeon, teal, lapwing and snipe. At the north end were the usual small party of grey partridge – they seem to love a particular area near The Lookout, and I nearly always see them there.

There was a single birdwatcher looking carefully in the trees at the start of the boardwalk that runs to the beach: Since one never knows what might be about I scanned them too, but initially only saw blue tits. She saw me and said; “Have you spotted it?”. Not having any clue what she was trying to see I said “Spotted what?”. “The firecrest” was the reply. This was fantastic news as firecrest is a bird I hardly ever see and I had no idea there was one around in this particular area, though they are reasonably widespread in East Anglia.

Firecrest and goldcrest are, as I’ve mentioned previously, the smallest birds in the UK. They’re very similar to each other and tend to be high up in trees and flitting around a lot….which makes them potentially hard to see! The clear identification point of firecrest from goldcrest is a prominent white stripe on the side of the head. Obvious and clear in a field guide, but still hard to see in an evergreen tree whilst craning ones neck to see the bird, which keeps moving to a different branch just as you get the binoculars on to it 🙂 Neck ache is something I definitely associate with trying to find small passerines that hang around in the tops of trees!

I located the bird two or three times, but wasn’t certain that I had seen the eye stripe. In that event I would have put it down as simply goldcrest….but luckily after a minute or so I managed a couple of slightly longer views of it, and there was the flash of white on the head. Definitely a firecrest – a great start to the morning.

I then went on to the beach. There weren’t a large number of birds – it’s Sunday so there were probably more people (and certainly more dogs!) on the beach than birds. Yesterday I called the blog “Ushering in spring” – not because I thought spring was here, but really just as a pun on the name of our first moth of the year, a spring usher. But perhaps it wasn’t too fanciful a title as, walking along between the beach and the pinewoods I heard (and then saw – flying high above me) my first sky lark of the year. Somehow the in flight song of a sky lark just seems to evoke spring the second you hear it. Lovely!

I then walked back to Wells via the beach, the pinewoods and the bank along the harbour channel, where I sighted several little grebes but not a lot else of note. Around the area of the playing field was a large (probably 200 or more) flock of brent geese. I always enjoy seeing them and hearing their rather gentle calls (gentle at least compared with some other goose species!).

brent goose (photo taken 2013)
brent geese in flight (photo taken 2022)

No moths today!

New species for January 29th:
Birds: sky lark, firecrest

Birds = 112
Moths = 2
Wildflowers = 11