Tuesday 19 March 2019

Super day in Norfolk

Brancaster Staithe with tide rising. Gloriously blue!
Setting off at 6.30 had me enjoying a coffee and breakfast at Wells Next the Sea before 8.30am before I headed further east to Sheringham. Here, I parked on the clifftop carpark and checked the promenade for a purple sandpiper that frequents this area over winter. Today it was not present, just the usual gulls and turnstones.
Turnstone on the slipway

These birds show pale fringes to the feathers indicating this these are 1st year birds
From Sheringham I headed up to Kelling Heath hoping for wood lark and dartford warbler. Again, neither were seen but finches (chaffinch and goldfinch) along with tits and my first singing chiffchaff of the year got on to the day list. By now the temperature was rising and the clouds were disappearing. All looked good for a great day.
Chaffinch at Kelling heath
Onwards to Salthouse beach and Gramborough Hill. Always a good site for wheatear, but not today so I then parked at the East Bank at Cley to check Arnold's Marsh and the sea. Several pochard on the dragonfly pool, plenty of greylag and brent geese whilst on the marsh: redshank, curlew, dunlin and assorted gulls. Nothing out to sea. A reed bunting was in good voice as were several meadow pipits but the breeze was a little too strong for the bearded tits to pose on top of the reeds. They could be heard.  Gadwall and mallard got on to the list, too. At the end of the East Bank a rock pipit  and many linnets
Meadow pipit near Gramborough Hill
Time for a coffee at the NWT Visitors' Centre before a drive around to the beach car park. Redshank and shelduck on the Eye Field and half way across towards the reserve, my first wheatear of the year, sadly, too far for a photo. From here, a brief stop at Stiffkey Marsh where a little egret made the list in amongst 1000's of brent geese. I continued along the A149 to check Lady Anne's Drive where wigeon dabbled and assorted other waders were noted before I continued east. I had just past The Victoria Hotel and rounded a corner to see a superb barn owl upon the estate wall. Nowhere to stop and park so I carried on, managing to turn around and head back. By now, numerous cars and a bus had gone by so I was really surprised to see the owl still present. I stopped and managed a few photos in excellent light before he flew off and roosted in a tree.

Superb bird in great light. Very fortuitous
A stop for some food and then a check at Brancaster Staithe where bar tailed godwits were noted along with teal, turnstones, redshanks and the first black tailed godwit of the day. From here, Choseley barns where red legged partridge, common buzzard and a singing yellowhammer were added to the list before off to Titchwell to check the marsh and do a spot of sea watching.
Plenty of birds and birders present here, several RSPB groups en masse so the footpath along the Freshmarsh was very busy. Another reed bunting whilst on the marsh, plenty of Mediterranean gulls in with the black headed variety. These are nesting on the island which now has chicken wire around it to keep down the mammalian predators such as rats, stoats and foxes from predating the nest when the water levels are low. More godwits, avocets and a large party of know roosting on a spit on the Sea marsh due to it being high tide. From the beach a cormorant passed by along with a red throated diver and good numbers of common scoter.
Back into the Parrinder Hide where a pair of greylag geese had taken up the role of meet and greet. They were both on top of the bank just before the hide and remained totally unperturbed by my presence. Back to the car for the final visit of the day, a quick check around Holme and the beach for owls and roosting waders. Again, the tide was too high and so all the dunlin, knot and sanderling had probably headed further into The Wash to roost.
Distant bar tailed godwit at Brancaster Staithe

Little grebe: Titchwell

smart plumaged teal

Meet and Greet greylag

Close enough for a portrait

Avocet in fading light

Pick out the Mediterranean Gulls on the island at Titchwell

Water rail in the ditch by the path near the Visitor's Centre

Species List: 18.03.19

  1. Red throated diver
  2. Little grebe
  3. Cormorant
  4. Little egret
  5. Grey heron
  6. Mute swan
  7. greylag goose
  8. Canada goose
  9. brent goose
  10. Shelduck
  11. Egyptian goose
  12. Mallard
  13. Gadwall
  14. Shoveler
  15. Wigeon
  16. Teal
  17. Pochard
  18. Tufted duck
  19. Common scoter
  20. Red kite
  21. Common buzzard
  22. Kestrel
  23. Red legged partridge
  24. Pheasant
  25. Water rail
  26. Moorhen
  27. Coot
  28. Oystercatcher
  29. Avocet
  30. Ringed plover
  31. Grey plover
  32. Lapwing
  33. Knot
  34. Sanderling
  35. Turnstone 
  36. Dunlin
  37. Redshank
  38. Black tailed godwit
  39. Bar tailed godwit
  40. Curlew
  41. Ruff
  42. Black headed gull
  43. Common gull
  44. Mediterranean Gull
  45. Herring gull
  46. Lesser black backed gull
  47. greater black backed gull
  48. Wood pigeon
  49. Collared dove
  50. Barn owl
  51. Green woodpecker
  52. Skylark
  53. Rock pipit
  54. Meadow pipit
  55. Pied wagtail
  56. Wren
  57. Dunnock
  58. Robin
  59. Wheatear
  60. Fieldfare
  61. Blackbird
  62. Chiffchaff
  63. Goldcrest
  64. Great tit
  65. Blue tit
  66. Long tailed tit
  67. Bearded tit (heard)
  68. Magpie
  69. Jay
  70. Jackdaw
  71. Rook
  72. Carrion crow
  73. Starling
  74. House sparrow
  75. Chaffinch
  76. Linnet
  77. Siskin
  78. Goldfinch
  79. Greenfinch
  80. Reed bunting
  81. Yellowhammer

Sunday 3 March 2019

Sri Lanka Feb 2019

Leaving Heathrow on Wednesday 20th Feb on the overnight flight to Colombo, we arrived midday Thursday and headed for a hotel in the city. A few birds were evident: Indian swiflets and Asian palm swifts shot around outside the hotel, too fast to capture on the camera. House crows everywhere along with Common mynahs. On the Friday morning we had breakfast and then sat outside waiting for the taxi to take us on the 2.5 hour journey to Galle in the south west. As we sat there, a large white bird in the far distance. A white bellied sea eagle, I thought before reaching for the binoculars and discovering it to be a spot billed pelican. A good spot for a city.
Upon arrival at Galle we met with staff whom we know from previous visits to the Jetwing Lighthouse hotel, unpacked and off for a much needed beer. We met up with good friend Anoma, the hotel naturalist and planned a meal out with him and his wife Anusha. I checked the usual birds within the hotel grounds.
Modern Colombo, a place much changed since my first visit in 1993

Hotel grounds, a birding hotspot!!

Indian pond heron, Galle

Beautiful place to stay, very peaceful

The rocks outside the Lighthouse Hotel

Cattle egret

Red wattled lapwing

Green skimmer dragonfly 
Over the weekend we just pottered about, visiting Hikkaduwa by bus and tuk tuk. The road was closed so the tuk tuk driver took us on a country route alongside plenty of paddyfields. Here, more egrets, brahminy kites and, over one field, plenty of Sri Lankan swallows showing their red breasts and rumps. A good bird to see, only my 2nd sighting.
We spent time around the pool and I took time to wander to an area over the road that the locals of Mahamodora call "The Jungle." Here, a peacock called, white breasted waterhens darted for cover and along the wires, red vented bulbuls, spotted doves, brown headed barbets whilst in the trees, plenty of black hooded orioles called.
blue tailed bee eater

Sri Lankan drongo

Black monkey, first sighting here

Black hooded oriole

6 foot monitor lizard

same reptile

familiar Galle scene on the main Colombo road. Cow causing traffic jams
On the Monday we had to be at the MindGarden Centre, a learning centre that I have been involved in for a while now. Here, I met students that I worked with in November of last year and we awarded them their stage 1 certificates. Most pleasing was to hear of two students that had been offered jobs, with their CV containing details of their achievements at MindGarden being stated as a deciding factor in them being offered the jobs. Absolutely brilliant to hear.

Some of the successful students. They were very proud to receive the certificates

Anoma on the right, the driving force of MindGarden

Praneeth receiving his certificate from one of our student volunteers.
Wendy with the two girls who have gained employment through their association with MindGarden.

That evening, Wendy, Anusha, Anoma and I headed off for a wonderful evening of good food and chat before heading back to the Lighthouse for a nightcap of local Arrak and what was planned to be an early start for a whale watching sailing trip. However, due to poor weather conditions this was cancelled so another day pottering around, snapping local nature and enjoying an occasional bottle of Lion beer.
The four of us after dinner

Wonderful time: thanks for the meal Anoma and Anusha

A shikra on the hotel roof, taken from our balcony

crab species


same bird on the rocks in front of the hotel

another Indian pond heron

monitor lizard that enjoyed the swimming pool, here in the overflow drain

gull billed tern

yet another lizard on the beach

Pied parasol dragonfly

Blue percher dragonfly

very common Spotted dove
On the Wednesday afternoon, Anoma collected me as we were off to the rainforest at Kottawa. As I got in the car he handed me a plastic bottle containing a wolf snake and on the back seat, a Sri Lankan polecat confined in a red plastic box. It promptly relieved itself over the back seat!! Upon arrival at the rainforest we found places to release these two creatures. The wolf snake didn't seem too impressed with being messed about and anytime we went near, the tiny chap reared up like a mini cobra. They are very aggressive, hence the name wolf snake. The polecat trundled off into the undergrowth and we then parked at the entrance to the forest. I paid my £2.00 entry and photographed the "meet and greet" macaque monkeys that hang around the entrance. This is a magnificent place, rarely visited by tourists and typical rainforest birding ensued. Plenty of calls but few sightings as the vegetation is so dense. Layard's parakeets called and flew overhead, black capped bulbuls, purple sunbirds,  Sri Lankan grey hornbills high in the canopy, a possible Asian brown flycatcher, kangaroo lizards, Sri Lankan green snails and several fungi species were all noted, as were leeches crawling up my legs. These were peeled off except for one that got into my shoe undetected. By the time I returned to the hotel the shoe and my foot were smeared in blood.
A great visit. Last time I was here was 2017 when I helped plant native rainforest canopy trees in areas where the original rainforest had been removed to make way for a tea plantation. This in turn failed and so some bright spark thought it would be a good idea to plant Scot's pine! These are now being removed and the new canopy trees can grow over the next few hundred years in what will become a restored rainforest. Great to be involved.
dense vegetation makes bird watching tricky. Bird listening is the order of the day

One confined polecat, caught in the hotel air conditioning ducts and released in a much better habitat.

Off into his new territory

Aggressive wolf snake

Into his new habitat, too. Found in the hotel garden

Distant and silhouetted Layard's parakeets

Medus brown butterfly

Meet and greet macaque

good portrait

Kangaroo lizard

This concrete path is a new addition since my last visit.

Sri Lankan grey hornbill

Anoma checking some man made tree holes that contain rainwater and are placed to attract tree frogs.

Sri Lankan green snail

Interesting rainforest fungi species.
The last few days were spent relaxing. I popped over to Mahmodara to see some villagers we have got to know over the years. I stopped off at Raja's house and we chatted over a bunch of bananas, lemon puff biscuits and pepsi. Also caught up with his brother Nilantha and neighbour Wasantha. Great to see them all again.
On Thursday we had planned to take the train to Colombo for our last night, but a derailed train meant a taxi journey instead. Anoma organised this and we were on our way back to The Stueart hotel in Hospital Lane, near to Galle Face Green, our original hotel upon arrival. A taxi the following morning to the airport and we were back in the house in Little Hadham by10.15pm, UK time, 3.45am SL time!! A long day. My last few hours at Galle were taken up photographing birds out to sea. Not too many, mainly gull billed terns with a few Indian cormorants, little egrets and little/saunders tern. The latter are impossible to separate in their winter plumage.
A fantastic time, as always and so good to see Anoma and Anusha again, thanks for the lovely meal and the wonderful gift which now sits on our mantlepiece.
Good to see Raja and his family again. The building behind is the village shop.

What a place to sit and birdwatch!

Posing crab

Gull billed tern coming into summer/breeding plumage

Gull billed tern in winter/non breeding plumage
Bird List from a non birding holiday!
  1. Indian peafowl
  2. Indian pond heron
  3. grey heron
  4. purple heron
  5. cattle egret
  6. great egret
  7. little egret
  8. Spot billed pelican
  9. Indian cormorant
  10. Little cormorant
  11. Brahminy kite
  12. Shikra
  13. white breasted waterhen
  14. red wattled lapwing
  15. whimbrel
  16. little/saunders tern
  17. gull billed tern
  18. whiskered tern
  19. spotted dove
  20. layard's parakeet
  21. rose ringed parakeet
  22. greater coucal
  23. Indian swiflet
  24. asian palm swift
  25. blue tailed bee eater
  26. white throated kingfisher
  27. brown headed barbet
  28. Crimson fronted barbet (new bird for me)
  29. Sri Lankan grey hornbill
  30. Common iora
  31. black hooded oriole
  32. house crow
  33. Sri Lankan swallow
  34. barn swallow
  35. Sri Lankan drongo
  36. Paddyfield pipit
  37. black capped bulbul (new bird for me)
  38. red vented bulbul
  39. yellow billed babbler
  40. common mynah
  41. Oriental magpie robin
  42. Layard's flycatcher (aka brown breasted flycatcher, a new bird for me)
  43. Pale billed flowerpecker
  44. purple rumped sunbird
  45. purple sunbird
peahen on the hotel roof at dusk, a common bird

Distant purple heron on the Mahamodara River. Photo from Chaminda's back garden.

White throated kingfisher
Another magnificent blue tailed bee eater

Suspected Layard's flycatcher (aka brown breasted flycatcher)
This flycatcher species is tricky to distinguish from Asian brown flycatcher. Apart from call the diagnostic features are the leg colours: pale in Layard's and dark in Asian brown. The legs were not visible but Asian brown is known to prefer the lighter areas higher up in the canopy whereas Layard's is happier in the dark and dank lower story of the canopy.  On this basis I am recording it as Layard's flycatcher. Either would have been a new bird for me. Very many thanks to Gehan de Silva Wejeyeratne for advising on this, the dragonflies and the Medus brown butterfly. I must now get a copy of his book: Naturalists Guide to the Dragonflies and Butterflies of Sri Lanka.

This is me

This is me
At the end of another Norfolk Coastal footpath walk. 47 miles, 3 days 99 species of bird. September 2009

Caley Wood view

Caley Wood view
sunshine through the canopy 29.05.08

A walk along the Warta Valley, Poznan, Poland. Feb 2007

A walk along the Warta Valley, Poznan, Poland. Feb 2007
Best birds on this walk: black and middle spotted woodpecker and short toed treecreeper

About Me

My photo
A primary school teacher for 30 years, I retired from teaching in July 2009 to set up my own science enhancement and communication company. The Primary Works offers science clubs, workshops and staged science shows nationwide. I have always been interested in bird watching since my early years. Apparently my first tick was after inquiring about a chaffinch and then receiving the Observer book of birds. By the age of 9 I had moved on to Tory Peterson's collins guide and was now involved on YOC birding holidays to Northumbria, Essex coast, Slimbridge and Yorkshire. My twitching rule is that I will willingly travel 1km for each gram the bird weighs. However, I have had many rarities just by being in the right place. I have travelled widely throughout Europe and also visited Australia and Sri Lanka. In 2016 I spent time at Portland Bird Obs and two trips to Aviero, Portugal. 2017 found me back in Sri Lanka in Feb/March, then July and back for New Year's Eve celebrations in December. Also returned to The Camargue in May for a 4 day trip. Few plans for 2018, but nothing yet booked apart from a trip to the IOW.

Grey heron

Grey heron
Over the allotment 28.09.08

Southern Hawker

Southern Hawker
Ridge footpath 27.08.08

Juvenile green woodpecker (17.08.08)

Juvenile green woodpecker (17.08.08)
Note the stripes, denoting a bird fledged this year.

common blue

common blue
Ash Valley G.C. 15.08.08

Indian balsam (impatiens glandulifera)

Indian balsam (impatiens glandulifera)
River Ash

azure damselfly

azure damselfly
River Ash 28.07.08

marbled white

marbled white
Discovered at Westland Green 22.07.08

ruddy darter

ruddy darter
Bush Wood 21.07.08

honeysuckle 19.07.08

honeysuckle 19.07.08
growing in hedgerow in Chapel Lane

cinnabar moth caterpillar

cinnabar moth caterpillar
Photographed on ragwort 19.07.08


Study of petals 11.06.08

male yellowhammer

male yellowhammer

common blue butterfly

common blue butterfly

River Ash

River Ash
looking south from the bridge at Hadham Ford

Common poppy (papaver rhoeas)

Common poppy (papaver rhoeas)
in rape field 29.05.08

Caley Wood sunshine

Caley Wood sunshine

Millenium Wood fox

Millenium Wood fox

common comfrey (symphytum officinale)

common comfrey (symphytum officinale)
06.05.08 banks of the River Ash

Garlic Mustard or Jack by the Hedge,(Alliara petiolata)

Garlic Mustard or Jack by the Hedge,(Alliara petiolata)
flowers, leaves and fruit edible . Good in salad and pesto

April showers

April showers
Double rainbow 30.04.08

Caley Wood bluebells

Caley Wood bluebells

Yellow Archangel

Yellow Archangel
Chapel Lane (20.04.08)

sunlight 16.04.08

sunlight 16.04.08
looking south west from Bush Wood

snowy buds

snowy buds
06.04.08 in Bush Wood

Looking north west

Looking north west
05.04.08 evening shower approaching

Back Garden

Back Garden
Easter Sunday (23.03.08)

Brick Kiln Hill

Brick Kiln Hill
Looking east (23.03.08)

No play today

No play today
The 2nd hole at Ash Valley golf course

Teasel head

Teasel head
Bush Wood (21.03.08)


daffodils at Bush Wood pond (21.03.08)

Swollen River Ash

Swollen River Ash
The river at the bottom of Winding Hill 16.03.08

Daybreak over the chapel

Daybreak over the chapel
Thursday 13th March

Wild daffodils (narcissus pseudonarcissus)

Wild daffodils (narcissus pseudonarcissus)
growing in Bush Wood

January snowdrops

January snowdrops
Banks of River Ash, north of Much Hadham

Good Moon

Good Moon
From garden 24.01.08

Village Green

Village Green
Looking east towards Acremore Street

Looking south before Hadham Ford

Looking south before Hadham Ford
rare January blue sky

Useful sites

The following are some useful websites that may interest readers of this blog.
Firstly, Bishop's Stortford Natural History Society http://bsnhs.webplus.net/

Fellow birder, Gary Whelan's blog. Gives reports from our trips out together plus reports from his trips abroad. http://hairybirders.blogspot.co.uk
http://www.hertsbirdclub.org.uk/ The official herts bird club website. Frequently updated, listing bird sightings around the county. Offers links to many other websites. Both of these sites also offer links to yahoo discussion groups.
http://www.birdforum.net/ An international site. You can enter as a guest but become a member( free) to post comments, bird sightings and just about anything to do with wild birds. Good news updates, classified section for binoculars, cameras etc.
http://www.guidedbirdwatching.com/ A new site set up where you can contact people worldwide who will help you find good birds in their country. UK section being set up presently.
Fellow birders blog. Strtford resident, Graeme Smith regulary birds the area south of Stortford as well as around Spellbrook and the River Stort from Spellbrook to Twyford Locks. Some superb bird photography: Graeme uses a digital camera attached to his powerful telescope to get detailled images of the birds he sees. Well worth a browse.
Two local sites that may be of interest can be found at
http://www.thehadhams.com/ www.thepelhams.net/content/section/12/139/

South Easterly walk

South Easterly walk
black, normal, red extended walk

South Westerly route.

South Westerly route.
Black usual, red extended

North Easterly walk

North Easterly walk
black short, walk. Red, extended

North West Patch

North West Patch
black route regular. Red route the extended wander