Blog Site by Appointment to His Regal Majesty the Maalie King

He who would be a Leader, let him be a Bridge

Crown Copyright: The Royal Maalie Court

Monday, January 30, 2006

North Norfolk Coast

I arrived at Cley on a murky Friday evening (27 Jan) to meet my birdy-ballet-soccer friend Pam Moorhouse who is Librarian Extraordinaire at CEH Monks Wood, coming out in her sparkly new Toyota Yaris for the very first time. The rendez-vous was the King's Head Cottage where Julia and Richard Porter offer a superb bed and breakfast. We set straight off for a pub-crawl round the village, starting at The Three Swallows for pheasant casserole, followed by a Grouse nightcap at the George.

After a hearty breakfast (Jan 28th) we were at the Cley East Bank at sunrise with clear skies and a bitter Siberian wind blowing off the sea, in time to see skein after skein of Brent Geese lifting off and heading for feeding grounds, whilst a Sparrowhawk circled over the wood. A walk along the bank to the sea revealed various waterfowl (including Little Grebe and Pintail), several wader species (Black and Bar-tailed Godwits, Spotted Redshank, Grey and Golden Plover, Knot, etc.), a fine female Marsh Harrier and a Little Egret.

Pam with her sparkly new Yaris on its maiden voyage

Next stop was Holkham sand dunes where Snow Buntings and Shorelarks habitually spend the winter. Today they proved elusive and the focus of attention became a group of Rock Pipits feeding in the saltmarsh. However, Pam's persistence eventually paid off and we were rewarded with very acceptable telescopic views of about 50 Snow Buntings and 6 Shorelarks. The surrounding pastures were crammed with feeding Pink-footed Geese with a supporting cast of Golden Plovers, Lapwings and Fieldfares.

On then to the RSPB reserve at Titchwell, always a reliable location for a good diversity of birds. We snatched a bite to eat and, before exploring the reserve itself, diverted a mile or so to Choseley Barns, which have a reputation for attracting throngs of graminivorous species, including (it is alleged) Lapland Buntings. With mile after mile of stubble fields stretching to the horizon, it seemed like looking for the eponymous needle in the haystack, so a prompt return to Tichwell was agreed. This reserve never fails and we found here additionally Goldeneye, Egyptian Goose, Avocet, Ruff, Turnstone and on the beach Sandlerlings were running about like clockwork toys. On the sea Red-throated Diver, Red-breasted Merganser, and Great Crested Grebe were spotted as they rose to the peaks of the waves. Here too was seen the day's highlight, as a flock of some 200 Common Scoter turned head to wind to land on the sea straight in front of us, showing clearly their open wings in direct sunshine. Some six or so had the tell-tale white wing-bar, diagnostic of the much scarcer Velvet Scoter. A British 'tick' for Pam and an English one for me.

With the sun setting fast and the light failing, thoughts turned homeward bound, but not before a quick call to the cliffs at Old Hunstanton where 4 or 5 Fulmars (Maalies) were a splendid conclusion to the day. Except that I added a sneaky two more species (Kestrel and Green Woodpecker) to the day's tally of 79 while driving home.

List of bird species recorded during the day.

1.Brent Goose; 2.Sparrowhawk; 3.Golden Plover; 4.Lapwing; 5.Coot; 6.Mallard; 7.Little Grebe; 8.Black-tailed Godwit; 9.Pintail; 10.Wigeon; 11.Marsh Harrier; 12.Cormorant; 13.Black-headed Gull; 14.Shelduck; 15.Redshank; 16.Dunlin; 17.Grey Plover; 18.Knot; 19.Oystercatcher; 20.Curlew; 21.Gadwall; 22.Spotted Redshank; 23.Bar-tailed Godwit; 24.Snipe; 25.Lesser Black-backed Gull; 26.Common Gull; 27.Herring Gull; 28.Shoveller; 29.Ringed Plover; 30.Teal; 31.Tufted Duck; 32.Greylag Goose; 33.Woodpigeon; 34.Reed Bunting; 35.Moorhen; 36.House Sparrow; 37.Blackbird; 38.Collared Dove; 39.Jackdaw; 40.Starling; 41.Robin; 42.Pink-footed Goose; 43.Coal Tit; 44.Jay;45.Rock Pipit; 46.Snow Bunting; 47.Skylark; 48.Shorelark; 49.Pheasant; 50.Magpie; 51.Carrion Crow; 52.Great Tit; 53.Mute Swan; 54.Mistle Thrush; 55.Fieldfare; 56.Little Egret; 57.Dunnock; 58.Greenfinch; 59.Wren; 60.Pochard; 61.Red-throated Diver; 62.Red-breasted Merganser; 63.Common Scoter; 64.Velvet Scoter; 65.Avocet; 66.Turnstone; 67.Ruff; 68.Canada Goose; 69.Egyptian Goose; 70.Goldeneye; 71.Sanderling; 72.Chaffinch; 73.Goldfinch; 74.Great Crested Grebe; 75.Grey Heron; 76.Blue Tit; 77.Fulmar; 78.Kestrel; 79.Green Woodpecker.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Silecroft: fishy blog

Arrived at Silecroft at about 1.30pm to a light but nippy offshore breeze, and a thin watery sun struggling to penetrate the alto-stratus. The beach is clean, snag-free sand with shingle at the top of the shore - nice conditions for beach-casting. The trouble with nice beaches on nice Sunday afternoons is the anglers' curse, namely, people. With luck most will just walk past, but dog-walkers are a real nuisance.The animal comes sniffing round the tackle box and, once, a dog gulped down a whole session's bait in one go. A dark glare at the owner is often enough to get the animal called off, but for less sensitive owners a remark such as "Madam, I'm concerned that the poor thing might get a fish hook in its mouth" is sure to get them calling Fido or Rover to heel. Almost as bad are those who want to linger and talk. Hey, fishing is a solitary activity where you can be at one with the sea and nature, pitting your skill against the instinct of the fish, not being distracted from concentrating on your rod tip by talking. Pubs are for talking. Also nauseating on beaches are kids. They have a habit of hanging around fidgeting, demanding to see your lug worms, anything you happen to have caught and bombarding you with a barrage of stupid questions like "What's the biggest fish you've ever caught". Fortunately kids are usually easy to deal with - refuse to answer their questions and with luck they'll get bored and wander off to bother somebody else.

Today there was a slight ground swell that had my two rod tips nodding rhythmically to the waves. I was using my preferred tackle, two-hook paternosters using Avis booms with mackerel strip on the top hook and lug worm on the bottom. After half an hour of inactivity, one rod tip nodded suspiciously out of synch with the waves. I picked it up and held it with the taught line running over my finger tip and there it was, the distinctive tug-tug and it was FISH ON!!! Turned out to be a full-house, a small whiting on the top hook and a decent flounder (1 lb 2 oz.) on the bottom. This is not unusual, the whiting probably hooked itself first and its wriggling attracted the attention of the flounder.


Then a period of quiet before another tidy flounder was wound in. At the top of the tide around dusk there were a few missed bites (undoubtedly small whiting which are good at stealing your bait without getting hooked, the runcible fellows) and with bait running out it was time to pack up in the gathering gloom. Three and a half hours for two flounders and a whiting, but I've done a lot worse. Flounders are not particularl tasty, but they do make good fish cakes where you can spice it up with a dash of anchovy essence, some capers (that's a right caper, that is) and cayenne pepper. Lunch tomorrow sorted.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


I have just given notice of resignation from my post of Principal Lecturer in Biology at De Montfort University, Leicester. From 30 September 2006 I shall be an unemployment statistic. Scary.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Trudy's First List

Alun and Trudy were already installed in Askam when I arrived at 08.30 on Saturday 14th January. Trudy had recieved a sparkly new pair of Pentax binoculars from Father Christmas and, having more or less learned how to focus them without being obscured too much by eye-lashes, it was time to place her feet tentatively on the next rung of the ornithological ladder, namely constructing a species list. The first site chosen was the RSPB reserve at Hodbarrow, near Millom. It was a lovely day some 4 weeks after the Winter Solstice and the sunshine was already generating some real warmth. We were soon off the mark with various waterfowl including Red-breasted Merganser, Eider, Goldeneye, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Teal, Mallard, Little and Great Crested Grebes. A circuit of the lake on foot was concluded with a picnic of Mabel's pies supplemented by cheesy buns and mince pies. A quick visit to Borwick Rail on the way home added Collared Dove, Shelduck and Wigeon and better views of some waders like Redshank, Knot, Turnstone and Curlew leaving us with a list of a tantalising 46.

Trudy locates a Goldeneye at the RSPB Hodbarrow Reserve

Sunday morning was bright as the sun rose with a bracing cold breeze, but a stroll to the end of Askam Pier added a flock of Twite (Trudy seemed twite pleased with that), Greylag Goose and Mistle Thrush. However a walk to the monument at the top of Hoad Hill, Ulverston, was required to bring up the half-century with Kestrel, Meadow Pipit and Raven.

Trudy's List

1.Blackbird; 2.Rook; 3.Starling; 4.Jackdaw; 5.Black-headed Gull; 6.Buzzard; 7.Carrion Crow; 8.Common Gull; 9.Tufted Duck; 10.Pochard; 11.Robin; 12.Little Grebe; 13.Goldeneye; 14.Mallard; 15.Herring Gull; 16.Eider; 17.Red-breasted Merganser; 18.Teal; 19.Great Crested Grebe; 20.Oystercatcher; 21.Lapwing; 22.Canada Goose; 23.Reed Bunting; 24.Stonechat; 25.Turnstone; 26.Golden Plover; 27.Knot; 28. Cormorant; 29.Curlew; 30.Mute Swan; 31.Great Black-backed Gull; 32.House Sparrow; 33.Chaffinch; 34.Magpie; 35.Great Tit; 36.Blue Tit; 37.Dunnock; 38.Goldfinch; 39.Greenfinch; 40.Wren; 41.Collared Dove; 42.Wigeon; 43.Shelduck; 44.Lesser Black-backed Gull; 45.Song Thrush; 46.Woodpigeon; 47.Twite; 48. Greylag Goose; 49.Mistle Thrush; 50.Kestrel; 51.Meadow Pipit; 52.Raven; 53. Coal Tit.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Camargue, January 2006

Tuesday 3 January - Nimes

Arrived in Nimes (Garons) airport about 2.30 from Luton by Ryanair with travel companion Stuart Coleman, collected the Hertz hire car and headed for Hotel Imperator on Quai de la Fontaine in good time to look around the city and see the Roman amphitheatre before dusk. Also looked round the gardens of the Fontaine with the Roman water water channels and constructions, opening our bird list with Grey and White Wagtails, Black Redstarts and Chiffchaffs foraging in the crevices of the masonary. Later a suitable restaurant was found between the Carée d'Art and the amphitheartre, finishing the meal with what was to become a customary glass of Calvados.

Wednesday 4 January - Camargue

Early breakfast then off down to Les Saintes Maries de la Mer in clear, fine but cold and windy weather. First proper birding began at the Pont de Gau ornithological park where we found our first Greater Flamingoes, egrets, herons, White Storks, Kingfishers, Red Kite, Marsh Harrier and various waterfowl. Then onward to the coast we found Black-necked Grebes on the sea, Sardinian Warblers in the tamarisk and various waders (including Kentish Plover, Turnstone and Little Stint) in the lagoons.

A picnic lunch in the car park at Les Saintes Maries turned up Crested Lark before we retraced our tracks to Albaron then began the circuit of the north edge of Étang de Vaccarès down to Salin de Giraud to find the track to Phare de la Gacholle. This road is always good for general birding but the strong wind made things difficult to find. The Nature Reserve at La Capelière was more sheltered and we had fine views of Great White Egret, Teal, Shoveler and Pochard.

We drove as close to the Phare de la Gacholle as possible and walked to the lighthouse in the setting sun, picking up Dartford Warbler, Avocet and Hen Harrier on the way.

Thursday 5 January - Les Alpilles

We arrived at Les Baux de Provence at first light to a bitter cold, clear day with a penetrating cold wind. The first task was to search the numerous rock faces of the Val d'Enfer for Wall Creeper which are allegedly to be found there during winter. Drawing a blank on this species, we were rewarded instead by a flock of Crossbills wich dropped into the pine trees and afforded us some excellent close views. Moving up into the ancient walled mountain town of Les Baux itself we investigated the shops and views and ascended to the plateau to the castle and discovered Serin, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Black Redstarts among the ruins. Of special interest was a flock of some 20 Alpine Accentors creeping around the ground seeking seeds and insects. These high altitude birds decend to Les Alpilles in winter and allow approach too close to focus on! Whilst training binoculars on distant rock faces, Crag Martins came into view. Incipient hypothermia on the plateau was forestalled by a warming glass of mulled wine (vin chaud) beside a roaring log fire in the bar of l'Hostellerie de la Reine Jeanne.

The afternoon was spent exploring Les Alpilles further, in particular a trek to the summit of La Caume, again in a vain search for Wall Creeper. The staggering views of mountain scenery made the walk worthwhile with closer views of woodland birds (Coal Tit, Goldcrest and Firecrest) gained on the ascent, and Black Redstarts and Dartford Warblers at the summit.

As the light faded we slipped down to Entressen for a short walk through part of La Crau in a forlorn attempt to locate Sandgrouse or Little Bustard, we nevertheless notched up Woodpigeon and Stonechat and Stuart found some interesting plants clinging to an existance in this harsh stony habitat.

By evening it had started to rain so it was a dash to to the nearby Restaurant Carée d'Art for lamb burgers and other tasty items in what was agreed the best meal of the trip. Oh yes, there was the ensuing glass of Calvados of course.

Friday 6 January - Sur le Pont d'Avignon

The weather had changed and was now overcast with intemittant rain. But it was a little milder and the biting wind had ceased. It was a day for bridges and cities. Heading first for Pont du Gard to view this splendid Roman three-tiered monumental aqueduct of staggering size. Moreover the Romans evidently had conservation in mind as the higher masonary houses a colony of Crag Martins! The trees around the site provided Short-toed Treecreeper.

Pont du Gard: Roman aqueduct is a haven for Crag Martins

From Pont du Gard to the ancient walled town of Uzès where we added to the trip's bird list Song Thrush and Dunnock in local gardens . From Uzès to Avignon where a parking spot near the Palais de Papes was found and GPS navigation allowed to us to find our way around in this walled city. A visit to the Pont St-Bénézet (the Pont d'Avignon) was a must, followed by a stroll along the Rhône and a café-cognac in a local bar.

Saturday 7 January - Vaccarès

The day dawned overcast but dry and, importantly, the wind had dropped. The bird list stood at 79, four more than for my same trip last January. So a decision was made to explore again the route between Albaron and La Capelière round the north side of Étang de Vaccarès, in an attempt to reach 80 species. It soon became clear that the windless conditions were a great aid to finding birds and in no time we added a further 11 species includng Golden Plover, Cetti's Warbler, Brambling (a very large flock), Little Grebe and Wigeon, a final list of 90 species.

Back to the airport in time to check in for the afternoon flight back to Luton.

Bird list.

1.Magpie; 2.Kestrel; 3.Chaffinch; 4.Goldfinch; 5.Blackbird; 6.Jackdaw; 7.Black Redstart; 8.White Wagtail; 9.Chiffchaff; 10.Grey Wagtail; 11.Mallard; 12.Mute Swan; 13.Starling; 14.Blue Tit; 15.Buzzard; 16.Carrion Crow; 17.House Sparrow; 18.Collared Dove; 19.Snipe; 20.Lapwing; 21.Red Kite; 22.Black-headed Gull; 23.Yellow-legged Gull; 24.Grey Heron; 25.White Stork; 26.Moorhen; 27.Cormorant; 28.Teal; 29.Shoveller; 30.Coot; 31.Pochard; 32.Greater Flamingo; 33.Little Egret; 34.Cattle Egret; 35.Greenfinch; 36.Robin; 37.Kingfisher; 38.Greylag; 39.Goldcrest; 40.Sardinian Warbler; 41.Dunlin; 42.Redshank; 43.Kentish Plover; 44.Ringed Plover; 45.Grey Plover; 46.Little Stint; 47.Meadow Pipit; 48.Linnet; 49.Shelduck; 50.Sandwich Tern; 51.Black-necked Grebe; 52.Great Crested Grebe; 53.Great Spotted Woodpecker; 54.Crested Lark; 55.Turnstone; 56.Tufted Duck; 57.Bullfinch; 58.Great White Egret; 59.Wren; 60.Dartford Warbler; 61.Common Sandpiper; 62.Hen Harrier; 63.Avocet; 64:Sparrowhawk; 65.Great Tit; 66.Jay; 67.Serin; 68.Crossbill; 69.Blackcap; 70:Alpine Accentor; 71.Coal Tit; 72.Firecrest; 73.Crag Martin; 74.Stonechat; 75.Raven; 76.Short-toed Treecreeper; 77.Song Thrush; 78.Dunnock; 79.Woodpigeon; 80.Corn Bunting; 81.Golden Plover; 82.Cetti's Warbler; 83.Tree Sparrow; 84.Green Woodpecker; 85.Curlew; 86.Water Rail; 87.Fan-tailed Warbler; 88.Brambling; 89.Little Grebe; 90.Wigeon.