Wednesday 15 October 2014

Glis glis, Hoopoe, Yellow-browed Warbler and a Steppe Grey Shrike - 15th October 2014

The last few weeks have been as good as they've been unexpected with some great sightings of some rather surprising wildlife. I have recently changed my route at work to the Chilterns area and while I have been introducing myself I kept hearing stories of the infamous Glis glis (Edible Dormouse) that is in the area. They were released from Hungarian stock in 1902 by Lord Walter Rothschild into Tring Park and since then they've been doing rather well and now, although still confined to the Chilterns, their population is about 10,000 strong! In fact when talking to a lot of the locals it becomes apparent they are considered to be a real pest around here as they have nasty habit of invading peoples homes where they like to chew through electrical wires causing all sorts of expensive damage! They also have a very bizarre protection status too as although they are locally common they are nationally scarce so you have to have a special license in order to trap them, but as they're a non native species you can't just release them back into the wild so you need another license to do that! They're called the "Edible" Dormouse are rather unsurprisingly they used to be a food source enjoyed by the Romans and they were very clever how they went about it too. The Edible Dormouse, like other similar mammals, hibernates during the winter and I have read that during their hibernation they can loose 98% of their body heat and can slow their breathing down to one breathe per minute. The ever ingenious Romans utilised this by places the Edible Dormice in pots and feeding them up on Chestnuts and Acorns and when they reached a nice plump size they're pour cold water over the pot they were in too reduce the animals body temperature and cause them to fall into hibernation. They can then be kept without the need for feeding until they wanted a nice Dormouse snack! Anyway a nice chap in the area offered to show me some and apologies but as they're protected the site where I saw them shall remain nameless but during a day off I couldn't resist popping down to take a look. They love outbuildings and in particular electricity boxes and I was taken to an electricity box on the outskirts of Tring to see them. I didn't quite realise that this is where they'd be as I was expecting to get a glimpse of one in a tiny hole somewhere but the chap I was with walked up to the box and opened it up to show a load of them at the bottom! Another thing I wasn't expecting was just how tame they are (they simply look at you wondering what you're doing), how big they are and also how active they are during the day but admittedly I was there quite early in the morning so perhaps they hadn't quite settled down for their sleep. Anyway a few decided to take a look round in the branches of the local trees which is nice as I managed to get a couple of pics but they all headed back into their home when the door was shut. It was a real privilege to see them even if they are considered a pest round here, here is a couple of pics of the experience.

Glis glis (Edible Dormouse), Chilterns

Glis glis (Edible Dormouse), Chilterns
While all this was going on a Hoopoe was spotted near Bedford but due to work and other plans I couldn't get to it during the first couple of days but on the Tuesday the 7th October I had an unexpected early finish at work so I couldn't resist a look. I headed to the site in a small village called Willington just east of Bedford and when I got the end of the road near the farm it was in I could see a few birders already there. The bird had been showing really well over the previous few days and was becoming quite famous for how confiding it was. Tonight wasn't any different and in fact it would've been better if the bird was a little further away (how often do you say that?!) as the fence was getting in the way of the bird slightly. It's always good thought to be in the presence of such a fantastic looking bird though and when they show like this it really makes your day. Other birds of note in the area was a pair of Raven mobbing a Buzzard over the nearby woods and an aggressive Wheatear which for some reason had a right pop at the Hoopoe at one point! Here is a quick phonescopped pic of the bird and a short video.

Hoopoe, Willington, Beds

Over the following days lots of birders and photographers visiting this showy bird and some incredible images of it have been produced. One of the best though was taken by my good friend Jon Philpot which is below, what a bird and what an image!

Hoopoe, Willington, Beds - pic taken by Jon Philpot
After our superb year of chasing butterflies I have to admit it was quite difficult to get back into birding again but this bird certainly went a long way in getting the enthusiasm building up again. So with the news of a mega in the shape of a Steppe Grey Shrike currently wowing the crowds in Norfolk we couldn't resist a trip over. So on the Sunday the 12th October me, Jon and Kirsty headed to Norfolk to take a look for ourselves. As we approached we were slightly worried by the amount of morning fog that was still present long after sunrise and we were even more concerned when a report came through that the bird hadn't been seen so far that morning! That sinking feeling started to fall over us that this was going to be a dip but our mood was raised significantly when a report came through just ten minutes later to say it was showing well! After sighs of relief all round we headed straight for the site and were rewarded with few of the Steppe Grey Shrike immediately after finding the crowds watching it. Unfortunately due to the light in the wrong place and the misty morning (I know I'm getting picky now) we decided to head off in search of the next target bird and return later when the sun was in a more favourable position.

Steppe Grey Shrike in the mist, Burnham Norton, Norfolk
The other bird was one of the Yellow-browed Warblers that had been seen along the Norfolk coast in recent days and as the RSPB reserve at Titchwell was the closest we headed there to try and see one as it would be a lifer for Jon and Kirsty. After a quick snack in the excellent cafe we started to bird the area and it wasn't too long before we managed to find the area one was in. We scoured the branches of the Sycamore tree above us and a tiny flitting bird could be seen zipping from branch to branch. After some perseverance we got great views of the this little gem as it busily fed on the flies brought out by the sun but as it was in the thick canopy pics were impossible. After enjoying the bird for a while we then decided to head back to the Steppe Grey Shrike. We were very glad we did as it showed incredibly well and with the help of a local birder placing a pot of mealworms on the ground it put on a real show. Jon very graciously allowed me to use his camera to get these pics below.

Steppe Grey Shrike, Burham Norton, Norfolk

Steppe Grey Shrike, Burnham Norton, Norfolk

Steppe Grey Shrike, Burnham Norton, Norfolk

Steppe Grey Shrike, Burnham Norton, Norfolk
 The bird would often come down onto it's stick before heading back into the nearby bushes. On one occasion when it did this I managed to get a pic of it's back showing the tail and wing pattern. It's heavily cropped but shows plumage of the bird you don't normally get to see.

Steppe Grey Shrike, Burnham Norton, Norfolk
And last but not least here is a phonescopped video, you can hear the shutters going off from the nearby cameras.

We decided to head to a couple of our other nearby favourite places after enjoying the bird so much, these being the Cider Shop in Wells-next-the-sea and the nearby Real Ale Shop just to the south to buy a couple of drinks for the journey home.