Saturday, April 5, 2014

Relaxing birding with star players!! 28.3.2014

Again, a great morning and one that just begged for a good exploratory walk around a given area. I decided to go to Holkham Hall Park first and then visit the NNR area opposite.

The park was at its best in some ways, full of bird song in calm conditions and pleasant weather. A slow walk through the woodlands produced numerous Nuthatch, and both Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker , but no sign of the desired Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Other birders were clearly listening out for birds, but with no success. Finally only a couple of us were left at which point we had a bird calling nearby. Try as we might we couldn't get a view of the bird, although we could track its movements. This was like trying to pin down the "elusive drummer" at Santon Downham!! It moved away from us at intervals , quite openly advertising its presence by calling , but disguising its actual location with very effectively. Whilst we followed it over quite a distance as it moved back towards the entrance avenue and main gates , we never did see it!  It seems the days when the park played host to around nine pairs are long gone in keeping with the reduction in numbers in many other areas. This demise seems to have closely paralleled the increase in numbers and range of Nuthatch and I wonder the extent to which there has been overt competition between them leading to Lesser Spotted Woodpecker "losing out".

Following that I walked over to the lake where various common duck and a lot of gulls were present along with the odd Egyptian Goose on the periphery. Retracing my route I also saw the large herd of Fallow Deer for which the Park is famed, which give good views providing you keep a reasonable distance away.

I made my way coastwards and commenced to walk through the coastal woodlands, acknowledging that it was early afternoon already!!  There was no sign of geese or duck in the nearby fields west of Wells as would be the case earlier in the winter, which made for rather a strange atmosphere. I guess I'm too used to the Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese on Islay hanging on well into April.

Chiffchaff was singing lustily alongside the path as I made my way onwards. Around the wetland area  Wigeon fed along with Grey lag Geese and good views were had of a close pair of Egyptian Geese too.  Cormorants, Grey Heron and Spoonbill were all present and showed to good effect , but the star of the show was a Bittern that has apparently been there all winter, but has been somewhat elusive. A cry from a lady in the hide that a Bittern had just emerged thankfully focussed us all on the individual concerned that then entertained us for a considerable period. Stalking quite openly between the clumps of waterside Juncus, the bird gave us an unprecedented view of it hunting behaviour. We've all seen Bitterns patiently standing on the periphery of a reedbed, but actively stalking potential prey is quite another matter. The controlled frozen stances whilst leaning forward at a 45 degree angle, the cat like stalking movement through the vegetation with its neck partially extended and close to the ground ,and then the abrupt pause as it sensed something was present. This was privileged birding at its best, not just seeing the bird and its beautiful plumage details , but its quite open and confident behaviour too. All too soon it simply slipped away into a patch of ditch side vegetation. What an experience !

And so, with the end of the afternoon rapidly appearing I made my way back to the car and onwards to Hunstanton, happy and not a little smug too!!