Thursday, 29 December 2011

Day Out in Norfolk

I headed out this morning with John and Graeme, deciding to spend the day a couple of hours away in Norfolk. Remarkably, it's the first time I headed up here since the empidonax action in September 2010. We had a nice roadside Barn Owl on the way up, before the first stop at Cley NWT. The 1st-winter Western Sandpiper was on show immediately on Pat's Pool. I could give you a lowdown of the features that I should have seen if it was a little bit closer and it wasn't such a lousy autumn. But I won't as everybody's probably well-versed in winter plumaged Western/Semi-p Sand. I certainly am, and all I have to say is subjective, scapulars and suite of features.

It was good to see a few old faces in the hide, and one of these Mike S, picked out a first-winter Tundra Bean Goose distantly from Daukes Hide. Again, lousy for photography. Stuff like Golden Plovers, Avocets, Dark-bellied Brents and a Water Rail were all nice to see too.

We had a quick search for a Ross' Goose near Holt but struggled to find many Pinkfeet, so it was on with the wild goose chase to the other side of Norwich. And at Buckenham Marshes, the adult Lesser White-fronted Goose was seen immediately in amongst the wintering Taiga Bean Geese. Pretty dark and diminutive, with a nice white blaze, it was a little bit distant to make out the minutae in the strong breeze. Perhaps last winter I'd been a bit too quick to judge, but according to my companions back in the day the Yare Valley was up there with Slimbridge for going to see your gen LWFGs. And as a carrier species - with both being taiga geese - you could perhaps argue a case. Mind, there have been feral birds locally and The Netherlands for sure will have a few less than wild (as well as wild) ones roaming around too.

Right then, the weather had been poor all day so the late afternoon shift in the hail and rain wasn't going to get great photographic results. But with news of a potential homeyeri Great Grey Shrike near Fakenham, we headed there from East Norfolk and arrived at its chosen, windswept field. After a bit, it showed in the gloom. There'll be plenty more on this elsewhere, and fair play to the guys who flagged this first-winter bird up. Apart from having the prior knowledge of them 'being paler, more white in the wing and tail' than nominate birds, I had no further wisdom when I viewed the bird: -

Initial impression reminiscent of a Lesser Grey Shrike, presumably due a slight peach hue to the underparts in the poor light, and the extensive white bases to the primaries that were about half the length of the exposed secondaries

Appeared to perhaps be pale mantled, though the light was pretty changeable. Lores appeared pale, with bill base pale too. Note the obvious white rump here and the appearance of a 2nd wing patch on the greater coverts.
In the gloom, I couldn't make out much on the amount of white in its tail (though observers earlier in the day state that the two pairs of outermost feathers were white) but for sure you can see a clean, extensive white scapular patch here.
Interestingly, despite a fair few claims of this subspecies, the Finnish Rarities committee has only accepted three homeyeri Great Grey Shrikes - all of them trapped. In the north and west of their range, they do apparently overlap with nominate excubitor too so perhaps we shouldn't get too hasty in being definitive on this bird just yet, interesting though it may be. Another educational experience, perhaps.

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