Thursday, 27 March 2008

A Purple Easter

The earliest Easter for over 100 years was also one of the coldest I can remember, including heavy snowfall. I spent a few days in Yorkshire with Libby's parents before migrating south to spend Easter with my parents in Winterton, Norfolk. Saturday was one of the most inhospitable days I have ever experienced in Winterton with a bitter and strong north-easterly wind battering the coast, coinciding with a high tide. I was determined to do some birding and I was rewarded early with a genuine HOODED CROW in the horse paddocks - a scarce bird in east Norfolk (we do have at least two hybrids regularly wintering between Winterton and Horsey but a "real" Hoodie is rare). As I ventured north the sea was pounding against the sea-wall between the village and Horsey and, for some reason, I thought it might produce some good sea-watching. A few Gannets, Fulmars and Red-throated Divers didn't do enough to keep me there for long, though, and after I received an exfoliating sand-blasting that you'd pay good money for in a spa..(!), I soon retired to the relative shelter of the west side of the dunes to scour the area in the vain hope of an early migrant or two. It wasn't long before I gave up and wandered back, wind-assisted, to a cup of tea and a piece of homemade cake! Sunday was much better, at least initially, and the sunny early morning produced a FIRECREST along Low Road and, shortly afterwards, the highlight for me - a SLAVONIAN GREBE - on the sea off the cafe at the beach car park. Tim showed up about half an hour later but by then the grebe had drifted south.. There was some compensation in the form of a first-winter MEDITERRANEAN GULL feeding in the surf. After a break during several hours of heavy snowfall, the day later produced SHORT-EARED OWL (thanks Peter!) and the first real summer migrant of the year in the form of a NORTHERN WHEATEAR (Peter again, unfortunately not seen by me). Tim then found a cracking male BLACK REDSTART in the allotments - always a very welcome sight. I finished the weekend on 86 species for my Winterton year-list so far, not including the PURPLE SANDPIPER that frustratingly inhabited the reefs just north of the parish. Nevertheless, it did pose well for photographs with the accompanying Grey Seals... Poor old Sean was due to spend Easter on the Isles of Scilly but, as of Sunday, hadn't made it due to the cancellation of the RMV Scillonian crossing due to high winds - I certainly wouldn't want to do that journey in bad weather - it's bad enough on a flat calm sea! It was good to see Ted out and about, too, and he had a tantalising glimpse of what was almost certainly another rarity for Winterton in the form of a WATER RAIL on the duckpond.. Nice one Ted!

As usual, a thoroughly enjoyable trip back!


Libby and I spent a week walking in Madeira just before Easter. We booked through a company called Inntravel which specialises in independent walking holidays. They provide maps, directions and arrange for your luggage to be taken from and to each overnight stop. The scenery was stunning - it is a relatively young volcanic island with very steep cliffs in places and hardly any beaches (and those that exist are of the black, volcanic sand variety). Weather was mixed with a couple of days of mist and low cloud but we did manage a few gorgeous days of warm temperatures - around 17/18 degs - and sun. We were walking in the north which often has a different climate to the south - the cloud tends to descend over the peaks around lunchtime and then engulfs the north, often with the south remaining clear. Of course, being an island in the Atlantic, the air is very damp and mist is often a problem. The photos above are: the view from the balcony of our first hotel room (top); the view from the highest point, Pico Ruivo (middle); and one of the incredible heather "trees" on the slopes of the highest peak (bottom). There are some interesting birds on Madeira. Unfortunately it was the wrong time of year for the most well-known of Madeira's breeding birds, the Zino's Petrel, but we did see the other major endemic, Trocaz Pigeon, and the Madeiran races of Chaffinch, Firecrest, Buzzard, Grey Wagtail and Berthelot's Pipit as well as Spectacled Warbler, Blackcap, Whimbrel, Cory's Shearwater, the Atlantis race of Yellow-legged Gull and Plain Swift. We soon got used to the daily 10-15km walks and enjoyed the contrast of the very scenic coastal paths and the internal walks through traditional Madeiran agricultural settlements and the native laurel and heather forests. Food was so-so (often a choice of fried fish or beef) but we were introduced to a great fruit with the English name "Custard Apple" - definitely recommended if you come across it...!