Archives for the month of: February, 2012

2 of these belong to the same creature. One is a fraudulent attempt at the former. What creature and which is the odd one out?

Answer – The 1st and 3rd picture are badger. The first obviously a footprint, and the third a latrine found in Scarborough. The 2nd picture is 2 dog footprints laying on top of each other in the snow.


Yesterday, there was snow. And, because there was snow, people with cameras  (I won’t say photographers) were out in their droves, taking pictures of things with snow on. Arty.

I also went out with my camera, but for a very good reason. I wanted to find some footprints, and snow is a perfect medium. Much nicer than mud anyway.

The most common footprints that you are ever going to find are those of cats and dogs. I spotted cat footprints in both my back and front garden yesterday. Why? People let their cats out unattended. Madness. Anyway, cat footprints are pretty straightforward to identify, having four toes and a pad and being broadly symmetrical. Also, cat footprints look like they’s fit neatly in a little circle, whereas dog or fox prints can be more elongated. Most importantly, however, is that they don’t leave imprints of claws, as, unlike dogs and foxes, they can retract their claws when they’re wandering about. Here is a cat footprint:

And here are some more:

As you can see, no sign of claw marks on any of these footprints, and these are pretty good impressions, so these can be safely deduced as cat.

Here is a track of cat footprints, bisecting what are almost certainly Blackbird prints:

Unfortunately none of the individual footprints impinged on each other, so it was impossible for me to tell which animal had walked here first. Though my money would be on the cat.

Dog footprints are in some ways more frustrating than those of the cat. Dogs are much more variable, so footprints of dogs can vary from being roughly the same size as a cat print up to about a square metre in size.  Additionally, there is a possibility of confusion with fox, which I will cover shortly. First, here is a dog print:

It was actually quite tricky to find any clear ones, as dogs tend to stick, quite rightly, to the paths, and, as such, most prints had been obliterated. In this one, if you look carefully, you can see claw marks, especially in front of the two middle toes. They also don’t quite have the same neat ’roundness’ of cat prints.

Differentiating a fox print from dog prints can be quite the challenge, and I am still only happy in claiming fox for the most perfect examples I find. A fox print is generally elongated, and claw marks, if present, are very close together on the middle two toes. They also tread more lightly than a dog, and usually walk by putting one of the hind feet into the spot where the front foot was; dogs usually leave four separate prints. Bearing all this in mind, I only found one possible trackway for fox, and here is a picture of the clearest print I could get to:

Not particularly convincing, eh? Nevertheless, I’ll state my case. The trackway, which I couldn’t get a coherent photo of, appeared to have been made by an animal putting its hind feet into front footprints – a foxy characteristic. The tracks are elongated, but the rear two toes do not extend in any way past the start of the two front toes (didn’t mention this earlier, but if the back toes overlap the rear of the front toes, then that’s probably not a fox). This trackway was also off the main path, and went up a slope into some low shrub, and there was no sign of a returning trackway, which you would expect of a dog let off the lead. Anyway, it’s not certain, but it seems quite possible that this is a fox.

How about this one then?

These were quite odd prints. Long prints, roughly two inches, but with only little pad and toe marks at one end. There were about three of them in a line, starting in the middle of nowhere, and disappearing again three marks later. How odd. Well, these scallywags were made by a bounding squirrel, which is why they seemed to appear and disappear, and the length of the print is due to the front and back legs landing in the same spot and the print being extended by the haunches of the squirrel. Super. On a park bench I found some little squirrel handprints:

Which are distinctive because of their placement, as well their odd little goblin fingers. Terrific.

What else could I possibly see, I hear you mumble. Well, the best is still to come. After literally minutes of dedicated searching, I found this bonny wee tyke:

And it can be seen in its original context here:

Well well well, what’s all this then? (As a gruff policeman might say). The print is asymmetrical, with a pad like a malformed bean, and five, count them, five toesy-woesies. What we have are quite decent badger prints, and a hole where one has had a little snuffle about. Bless. Below is a photo of a trackway disappearing mysteriously out of frame. Interestingly, notice how little the snow appears to have been scuffed by the underside of the badger. Do they not drag their undersides as much as I had assumed? Or do they hoist themselves up in snowy weather so they don’t get too nippy?

My spirits were soaring after finding these delightful little miracles, so I decided to scramble down the slope to the setts to see how activity there had been overnight. There had certainly been some. Here is the main sett:

And the mess of footprints outside:

In fact, on some of these prints you can even see the claw marks at the end of each toe, another helpful distinctive feature (if the asymmetrical prints and five toes aren’t enough). Some of the tracks led to one of the smaller enterences to the sett:

How nice. I was especially pleased to find some badger prints well away from the main sett, in fact right outside what I thought was an auxiliary sett. Obviously some badger is in residence here, who, why? A young male? An old male? I just don’t know. (The auxiliary sett has been there since at least 2009, but has the same resident been in occupation the whole time?) It was particularly nice to find some badger evidence here, as this was the first sett I had found, but I had never found any solid evidence of badgers, no hair, no prints etc., At last there was some solid evidence for occupation. And some lovely evidence it was:

Excellent print, with pad and all five toes very clear. Also a claw mark can be seen in front of the furthest right toe, but the rest have, unfortunately, been scuffed away as the badger walked. Selfish blighter.

The only other footprint I saw was this one:

Clearly a primate of some sort, but the short toes are unusual, clearly not suitable for climbing or gripping. I would guess at this being a human footprint, with humans being the only apes resident in the Scarborough area. Also I saw Rachel do it.

In other news, drake Mandarin back on Peasholm Lake, and a Sparrowhawk over.

As usual James write in sweeping fashionable italics, whilst Rob uses the robust sensible plain font.

What on earth has been going on? Well, I haven’t been posting regularly for a start. Shame on me.

Anyway, let’s review. On 28th January, me and Robert went to undergo BTO BBS training. For anyone not au fait with these acronyms, the training was run by the BTO, so that we could do BBS. 

The access road up to Tophill was icy and covered in ice, so we went slowly. Saw plenty of Hare, and three Roe Deer, one with malformed velvet, so quite possibly the same deer from our previous trip. As we got close to Tophill, a Grey Partridge landed right next to Robert’s window, called a few times, then flew off. Robert declined to take a picture. 

A few metres further down was Easingwold Farm, where the Cattle Egret had been hanging around. Mine and Robert’s memory differ on who spotted the Egret first, but it doesn’t really matter. We both knew it was quite likely to be there. We decided to pull up briefly and walk down the public footpath, and got close enough the the bird that I could have thrown sausage rolls into its waiting maw. Instead, Robert took a picture of it, which I’m sure he will post when time allows. We then backed away from the bird, not wanting to be those people that get closer and closer until they flush things. We then became distracted by about 7 Grey Partridge calling in a field behind us. Couldn’t get a photo unfortunately, but pleasant nonetheless. The first time either of us had seen Grey Partridge in the Tophill area.

Cattle egret – I’m actually happy with the picture.

We went to do the training, and met up with PinkCuckoos (actually her real name. Poor girl) If my memory serves correctly, we didn’t see anything else of particular interest for the rest of the day. Apart from Barn Owls, which are awesome.

We then left Tophill, I dropped Robert at his palace, and I went back to Scarborough with my sister to help her write an essay about Othello. Sunday passed quickly, and it seemed no time at all until I had dropped Claire home and was back at Roberts. We slept. We got up again at 4;00 am. We set off.

We arrived at Wolferton (the famous triangle) at about 7:00. I had read plenty about the best ways to see the incredibly rare and precious bird that lived here, and it was time to put it into action. First we drove along the two longer sides of the triangle (the triangle is isoceles, by the way. Well, actually it is scalene if you’re being pedantic, but on sensible measures it is isoceles). As we drove down these sides, we looked for clearings in the triangle that we could see into (the triangle is woodland with a dense understory of rhododendron). After finding a shallow clearing (and flushing a woodcock) we parked up and looked around. The trick here is to be patient, looking to your side into the triangle, but also up the road ahead, and in your mirror at the road behind. After the best part of an hour, we gave up and cruised around for a bit, but didn’t see anything or anywhere that looked any better, so we went back to our spot. It was about 8.00 am. Just then, Robert, who had remembered the whole ‘keep looking’ thing (I had my eyes tightly closed) let out an incoherent squeal. He had spotted one. On the edge of the road, ten our so meters further up, was a male Golden Pheasant. As we watched, it crossed the road and began feeding on the other verge, and was eventually scared off by a passing car. The whole sighting only lasted a couple of minutes, but it was fantastic. Golden Pheasant, an incredibly rare, rapidly declining ecdemic. Super. Robert even managed a picture, which he will post at his considerable leisure. 

Robert wasn’t finished with Wolferton yet, oh no. He spotted a dead Muntjac at the side of the road, and we got out to investigate. By investigate I mean nudging with feet, poking and a little bit of hoisting. By the rule of corpses, it belonged to the finder, and Robert decided to hide it in the woods so we could get it at the end of our jaunt. Isn’t he canny?

Once the Muntjac had been safely stowed, we set off again, this time for the coast. Titchwell was our aim, and the site of many happy memories from the last time we had been. Actually, thinking about it, the most interesting things I saw at Titchwell last time was a flock of Knot and a Red Crested Pochard. This visit would outshine that dramatically. I hoped. We arrived and walked past the closed visitor centre (still too early in the day) and saw a little old lady looking at a small group of Redpolls in an alder. I asked her if any of them were special. She said she wouldn’t know, and she hated us for asking. She then left.

I had spent a couple of weeks reading everything I could about the different types of Redpoll, and I was keen to have a peer. So I did. There were only about ten Redpolls in the tree, all small and brownish, so I proclaimed them as Lessers (as you’d expect) Suddenly there was one much much paler bird amongst them, and it dropped down to eye level. Robert, cunning as ant-lion, quickly snapped a picture. It clearly wasn’t a lesser. In fact, it looked very pale, and its beak looked short and very fine, for a finch. I wasn’t about to proclaim it an Arctic, however, and told Robert I’d only be happy calling it a Mealy. Mealy then, we thought, Yeyy. A lifer.

The Redpolls then flew off, so we walked down the boardwalk, seeing a Jay and a Little Egret on the way. We stopped off in a really posh hide and had a look over the water. Nothing particularly unusual, but a few nice birds in the form of Ruff, Knot, Golden Plover, and Dark-Bellied Brent Geese. Another birdwatcher entered the hide, and we struck up weak conversation with him. I forget the exact course of our speech, but eventually we mentioned seeing a very pale Redpoll, but only being happy calling it a Mealy. “Ahh” said the man, “There haven’t been any Mealies here for weeks, only Lessers and the Arctic. That will have been the Arctic”. He then left. I looked at Robert and said “Arctic then?” but I didn’t feel happy with it. I expect Robert felt the same. A couple of passing Marsh Harriers flew past.

We left the hide and walked down to the beach. A stiff drizzle was moistening us significantly, and there was no sign of any Snow Buntings. There were Sanderlings, however, so a nice year tick was garnered. We walked back from the beach, ‘cos it was cold.

The visitor’s centre was open now, and there were a few people looking at the Redpoll tree just outside. Robert went inside for reasons, whilst I found a birder who knew more than me and stood near him in case he said something. He did say something. He found the Arctic. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see it, and it soon disappeared. I struck up conversation, and asked his opinion on a pale Redpoll halfway down the tree, which I thought might be a Mealy (I also thought that, whilst paler than the Lessers, it wasn’t quite as pale as our bird from that morning). He said it was a Mealy. Right, I definitely had seen a Mealy now, and was feeling more confident about that morning’s rascal being an Arctic. The actual Arctic then showed up again, and looked uncannily similar to what we had first seen. 

Robert then came back out of the centre and joined me, and we watched a Water Rail underneath the feeding station. I told him that the bird we had seen was probably an Arctic, and that there were Mealies about, several of them in fact, so the man who said otherwise was a big liar.

A really pale Mealy materialised on a low branch further up the path at that point, so Robert was actually able to see a really nice example of one, and subsequent closer examination of the photo of the morning’s pale Redpoll showed a single dark shaft on the undertail – a sign of Arctic. So, with a bit of faffing, and a lot of learning, and a few tears, we had seen all three of the Redpoll species present. Phew.

We sojourned to the visitor’s centre, and perused the sightings book, noticing that Spoonbills had been and gone by the time we had even arrived, and that a Chinese Water Deer had been seen not half an hour ago. After seeking a professional opinion, we decided to look for the Chinese Water Deer, which Robert soon found. We stood, alternating between basking in the majesty of a new mammal (an all too rare and difficult event) and looking at its torn ear and funky fangs through the scope. Oh we did feel special.

We left Titchwell, and went to a layby near a place called Burnham Overy. Saw Brent Geese, Barn Owl, Grey Partridge, Common Buzzard and a flock of Lapland Buntings (Unfortunately very poor views, only seen in flight and completely disappeared amongst the stubble otherwise). We set off, and a little further down the road Robert spotted a large bird of prey flying away. We pulled down a little road to try and get better views. Unfortunately the bird was at the perfect angle so that we couldn’t see either the upperside or the underside, and the flying mystery bird disappeared behind some trees as mysteriously as it mysteriously mysterious.

We went to Holkham, a place we had not visited before, where we hoped that we might see any of the following birds; Ross’ Goose, Black Brant, Pale-Bellied Brent, Rough-Legged Buzzard, Firecrest, Shorelark. We parked up and immediately met the worlds most enthusiastic man. He told us about all sorts of stuff, including Shorelark and Firecrest. We went to look for a Firecrest, and walked down the most incredibly silent path in the world. Honestly, I didn’t notice a single bird in those trees. The trees were interesting in and of themselves, however, being the first Holm Oaks I had ever seen. Holm Oaks are odd, by the way, in that they are evergreen, which seems an entirely strange thing for an oak to be messing about with. Anyway, down this path we met the most negative and despondent birdwatcher in the world. Robert asked him if he had seen anything, to which the birdwatcher replied that he hadn’t, and he had been looking for the Firecrest since eight that morning. This dampened our expectations somewhat, so we walked along, partaking of some lovely Muntjac on the way, and then walked through the trees onto the dunes. The trees were full of Goldcrests. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many. Every now and then, the air would be filled with squeaky wheel, edge of your hearing peep of Goldcrests, and suddenly they’d be zipping through the trees and bushes around you. There was also a Chiffchaff, which we laughed at and threw pretzels at and told it to come back in summer. 

We gave up on the Firecrest, and head back east to try and find the Shorelark. On the way I spotted a Ringtail Hen Harrier chasing what were possibly Meadow Pipits, but could also have been another bird species. We just didn’t know. We weren’t exactly sure where the Shorlark would be hanging about, so we asked a couple of birders for advice. After getting the rough area pointed out to us, Robert decided to team up with a lady. I can’t remember a thing about the lady, what she looked like, how she spoke, so I would advise you to imagine a sprightly eighty-year-old with a shawl trying to spot birds through opera glasses, and speaking with a strong South African accent peppered with obscenities. Anyway, Robert seemed to take a liking to her, and thy searched one area whilst I searched another. All I found were Meadow Pipits, whilst Robert and the lady found more Grey Partridge. Suddenly Robert let out a whoop, he had spotted a Shorelark. Unfortunately it quickly flew away and he was the only one to see it. Luckily, due to our immense skill and dexterity, it wasn’t long before we had one pinned down in the scope. Robert, gentleman that he his, set up the ladies scope so that it was pointing at one. She was pleased. Robert asked her what she was doing next, and she replied that she was going to get something to eat, probably seafood. She didn’t care, so long as it included, in her own words, “some fookin’ prawns” (this all seems like James’ mad attempt to get in a Distract 9 reference into the post. I’m not sure why).

We left Holkham. Out of all the birds we could have seen, Shorelark was probably the one bird that we would have been equally happy seeing. Robert famously not being particularly interested in funky geese, and me having seen Rough-Leg and Firecrest before. We had an hour or so before the light left us, so we zipped down the coast to Cley, to have a half-arsed not-particularly bothered look for the Western Sandpiper. We weren’t bothered. Why? ‘Cos we weren’t. Anyway, we didn’t see it, but we did see some  Marsh Harriers, a Merlin, a Ruff with a white head (male in breeding plumage? aberration?) and some Pied Wagtails. 

It got dark, and we went and bought food and petrol. Hilarious and amusing things happened that I will let Robert explain, but meant that we had to abandon our original sleeping site, so we parked up at Salthouse for the night.

For all future road trips I am going to insist we do a quick google search about any car parks or lay-bys we wish to stay at.
James decided that the best place to spend the night would be nestled in his car, at the car park for Whitlingham Country Park. I had no better suggestions so we arrived at a reasonable hour after re-fuelling in Norwich. As we headed down the long dark road though, I became suspicious of the car that seemed to be following us. James reassured me that it was just my imagination. We pulled into a car park and would-be pursuers carried along, leaving us behind. As the cars headlights swung into the car park we noticed 2 other cars already parked up, both containing lone men. They had no lights on in or outside of their cars, and seemed only mildly aware of our presence. This pricked my suspicions.
‘We are at a fucking dogging site’ I carefully explained to James. He thought me mad.
‘They’re probably here to see the goose as well’ he reasoned. I doubted this, as a third of the people in the country interested in hybrid-geese were already in James’ car, it seemed unlikely the other two thirds were already waiting there. I insisted we try the other car park further down the road.

We pulled in to the alternative. Within a few minutes another car joined us. It parked slightly away from us, but quickly turned off it’s engine and lights. Yet again it contained a single man.
‘This is definitely a fucking dogging site’
‘So what if it is? I’m sure it’ll all be fine’
‘I don’t want to wake up in the night with a man wanking over your car’
‘That won’t happen’
‘It could happen’
‘We’ll put a piece of paper in the window, explaining we aren’t doggers.’
‘That will just drive them into a dogging fervour. Even if they don’t wank over your car, I don’t want to see 10 men stood around someone else’s car, wanking while a coerced housewife brings herself to a unwanted orgasm’

This led to a long discussion about dogger’s rights which I won’t bore you with. I eventually googled the road name. It was definitely a dogging site. James still thought that the car park was a good place to spend the night. I tried to reason while more cars arrived and departed, each one getting closer.
‘I’m going to turn the light on, so they can see we aren’t up to anything. I’ll look at the road atlas’ I said as turning the light on.
‘NO, THEY’LL SEE US’ James said, turning the light off
‘Wait, I need something out the back’ James said, turning the light on.
‘YOU’VE STARTED SIGNALLING THEM’ I shouted, as James turned the light off, again.

Shortly after another car pulled up. This time in the space right next to ours.
‘Don’t worry’ James said calmly, ‘It’s just the police’
He was right. After a small chat with the police officer we learnt that this site attracted ‘Anti-social’ behaviour and anyway, there was no overnight parking. We failed to notice the sign while arguing about who would clean spunk off James’ car. I don’t think the police man believed our hybrid-goose story. He obviously thought we were a pair of miscreants. After he offered a few suggestions for places to stay we made quickly our exit. We made our way to stay at Saltholme.

I slept surprisingly well, probably the best I ever had in the car. And I woke up the next morning full of piss and vinegar. Robert, however, hadn’t slept well, and wasn’t relishing the thought of getting out of his sleeping bag and looking for Snow Buntings. Luckily, the Snow Buntings were just at the other side of the car park, meaning I could drive over without disturbing Robert or even the Snow Buntings particularly. Snow Buntings seen and photographed, we continued with out adventure. The next site was one I had been particularly looking forward to – Buckenham Marshes – where a Lesser White-Front had been hanging around with Taigas. 

I can’t remember how or when we got there, but get there we did. There were four birders there already with big shiny expensive scopes, and they had the goose in their sights. They let me have a look and, even though the goose was distant, it was distinctive and sexy awesome. The Taigas were nice to see as well, especially in numbers, me having only ever seen one on its own, and these being another first for Robert. I had a scan about and, like some sort of nature-bothering savant, spotted two Chinese Water Deer near a clump of trees. They are awesome, like, really really good and super fantastic terrific. I want a skull of one, and I’d kiss it every night. I then looked out towards the geese again, and spotted something very interesting, and sexy, not too far out amongst a group of feral Canadas. It was a hybrid goose, and not just any hybrid, it was a hybrid I had not seen before. Additionally, it was a neat looking well put together hybrid, not one of those weird, faintly unhealthy ones. It was a hybrid Red-Breasted x Barnacle Goose. It was still a bit distant to obtain a daguerreotype, but a photo of the exact same bird can be seen here. Isn’t it sweet? I’d certainly let it share my rubicon.

Also seen at Buckenham before we left was a pair of Peregrine, a Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Ruff, Song Thrush & Mistle Thrush. So that was nice.

An urbanish site was next, Whitlingham Country Park. This site had been recommended to me because of its long staying Ross’ x Lesser White-Front hybrid which had the dual skills of being adorable, but also being completely absent. Couldn’t find it. Found some Greylag x Swan Geese hybrids, one of which looked a little different, but no Ross’ hybrid. Plenty of Egyptian Geese though. After about an hour, we decided we would have to go. There were other needs calling to us. Just as we reached this decision, a flock of geese flew in and landed next to us, containing the hybrid. It was lovely, and I’m sure Robert will post an etching once he has the time and available funds.

Hybrid goose on unknown origin

Ross’s x Lesser Whitefront with a bit of adorable thrown in

We then drove to Raynham Lake, a lake near the village of West Raynham. I think it was west, could have been east. Pretty sure it wasn’t north or south. Anyway, we found the lake and began scoping over it. Plenty of Greylags and Egyptian Geese, but no sign of the mucky little hybrid I was after. The road we were parked on had large trees down the sides forming an avenue. Not sure what species they were unfortunately, no leaves and all that, but there appeared to be strange growths up in the trees. We speculated at nests or galls, but on closer inspection they turned out to be Mistletoe, a new species for both of us. What lucky scamps we are.

I walked a little bit further down the fence and scoped the geese again, and suddenly the hybrid was there. Must have been hiding behind another goose. This hybrid was a Barnacle x White-Front, not quite as pretty as the previous two, and with vividly coloured legs, like peeled carrots. A picture of this bird can be seen here.

Our work thus complete, we returned to Wolferton to collect Robert’s Muntjac’s head. First, I wanted to eat an apple pie, which I did, and whilst I was doing this we looked out for Golden Pheasant again. It would probably have been a bit lucky for us to see Golden Pheasant twice in two days, so that’s what we did. Robert spotted it again, whilst I appreciated it through mouthfuls of pie.

Pheasant seen and pie consumed, we cut the head off the Muntjac and returned home like kings.