A little bit of wild June


We have hit the middle of #30dayswild the wildlife trusts annual invitation to do something wild and revel in nature each day even if it is only for a few minutes. Today having checked out their website I discovered they even have an ap which I shall be using to see what random acts of wildness appear to enrich the lives of my 9 year old assistant and myself.

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Who Can resist a random wildness button?

Early wild events have included the less random but no less enjoyable visits to the wild places near the village including one to one of my WEBS sites. The large lake was very busy on arrival with huge rafts of moulting greylag geese some with youngsters. There were also good numbers of Canada and Egyptian geese and even a little barnacle goose for good measure.

Awww theyre adorable chicks

Greylags with fluffy offspring.

There were plenty of other birds with youngsters including a gadwall, great crested grebes, lots of wobbly black- headed gull chicks. The common terns were still brooding their eggs but hopefully they will hatch soon. After the visit and count was complete I was taken to nearby Great Melton to see an unusual orchid one of several present at the site.

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The rare and very delicate albino bee orchid.

One of the definite highlights has been a bit of badger watching with my nine year old assistant and whilst the elusive badgers have struggled with an appearance we have been treated to tawny owls being chased through the woods by scolding jays and black birds. Whilst we watched the sett we were treated to a feeding song thrush in the evening dappled sunshine in front of our hide and then the evening chorus which although short and sweet is every bit as beautiful as its bigger dawn brother. Ours included all the birds above as well as some tone deaf crows and pheasants. Fortunately some more tuneful robins and wrens joined in along with goldcrests and a couple of bullfinches. As we walked home we bumped into a muntjac deer and her tiny stripy fawn.

The badgers didn’t completely elude me as I changed the camera traps earlier in the week and as I was least expecting it a black and white beast saw me from one of the tunnel entrances and clumped of heavy footed back into the sett. Later in the day I also manged to record my first Leislers Bat and again as I was heading home I picked out the glowing eyes and then unmistakable form of a polecat in my headlamps.

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Still waiting for this photo but who knows what wild June will bring

Photo Credit: Tony CC Gray Flickr via Compfight cc

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I’ve been away. Skomer.


All people should see puffins in the flesh, especially 9 year old assistants. They are a bird so full of comedy and enjoyment they are food for the soul. They are a little sparse around the village so I opted for one of two safe locations to see them, the Island of Skomer off the South Wales Coast. My other previous option is Northumberland’s Farne Islands for the record.

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Option 1 Skomer viewed from the mainland.

On route to Skomer there were a few necessary diversions including the castle at Caerphilly which can be described only as impressive being the largest surviving medieval stronghold in the country. I was of course impressed with the sand martins which nested in its ramparts and caught their meals above the moat as well as by the lesser black-backed gulls that stood like sentries on each towering rampart.

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Difficult not to be impressed

The castle moat also boasted a number of varieties of geese including greylag and canada and hybrid geese and I couldn’t help wonder if any of them could trace their lineage back to the original castle inhabitants. There was also what appeared to be a semi permanent display of birds of prey including the Village favourite.

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Sleepy Welsh Tawny owl (I phone shot )

Post castle and the next morning we set off early for tickets to Skomer via the ferries which start at 10 o’clock. Very pleased with myself I arrived an hour early to ensure a space on the boat. Alas on sunny half term weekend with a dead calm sea it turned out that I would have needed  to arrive three hours early to ensure a guaranteed ticket and was lucky to get an extra boat tour around the island but no chance of the visit I had hoped for. Having an hour to wait I opted for a walk around the area and was treated to meadow pipits and skylarks singing along the coast as well as to nest building swallows.

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Swallow clearly in a hurry to get the summer accommodation up to scratch.

Eventually the boat arrived and we headed off for our tour of the birds. We were soon heading through small rafts of razorbills then guillimots and finally puffins. Unfortunately whilst we had good views they were a little distant for good photography.

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Puffin looking as only they can.

As we headed round the island we more views of nesting birds and the local kittiwakes and lesser black-backed gulls and puffins would fly on frantic wings over the boat often in small flocks.

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Birds on every part of the coastline

Whilst the boat trip was limited in terms of what I had hoped to see and even more in terms of photographic opportunities I was treated to and unexpected personal highlight as two unmistakable black birds tumbled down a grassy slope. They were choughs and the first I had seen since a childhood visit to the same island no doubt descendants of my first birds given the tiny UK population.

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Bright red legs and curved Bill of the UK’s rarest crow the Chough

All in all I was very happy with the start if this years 30 days Wild and can also recommend the use of Air B&B which produced a very pleasant low cost stay,  local to the island at short notice in the half-term.

This posts video comes from one of the badger setts close to the village and I had set up the Crenovo trail-cam hoping to get a shot of this years Badger cubs. I wasn’t disappointed and think I count seven youngsters in total

Summer hits and rare things


Since the last post I have been surveying birds as often as possible and checking the summer migrants are all in and counted. One of the last in, and a relief to see back from their African travels is the house martin colony at Admiralty Way in the village. Their chattering as they wheel about above the roof tops is a joy to watch.

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Caught on the wing (tricky hence this one is not my own) the housemartin

Photo Credit: allengillespie.photo Flickr via Compfight cc

Having seen these arial acrobats in it made sense to check out the survey route I had to do around Wong Farm (click HERE to see the local birding walk). I took a couple of nine year old assistants and we were soon watching dozens of swallows flying in and out of the farm buildings. A couple of birds swept inches past the faces of my assistants and drew simultaneous wows. Also around the farm were pied wagtail and linnet as well as a charm of twenty goldfinches making a clamor. In the horse paddocks a lone kestrel watched the most prolific bird of the morning.

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Must have counted hundreds of these wood pigeon over the last few weeks.

Out on the farm tracks the swallows were soon joined by parachuting skylarks with their constant uplifting song. Trying hard to beat them for vocals were regularly heard but seldom seen wrens and the occasional chaffinch and blue and great tits.

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Regular songster around the Wong Farmland the Yellowhammer

The walk also produced brown hares, muntjac and roe deer so no shortage of variety for my companions to wonder at and they took great delight in pointing out the red admiral and peacock butterflies and jumping when they flushed pheasant or red-legged partridges. On another early morning stroll whilst seeing all the same things again just west of the village near Market lane I met a man who had recently been working on fields near Thickthorn who had seen a red backed shrike unfortunately it hadn’t stuck around but just shows that an attractive rarity can turn up anytime .

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The one that got away Red-backed Shrike

Photo Credit: Stuart G Wright Photography Flickr via Compfight cc

I have also visited one of my WEBS sites and was really pleased to count 27 common terns including 7 sitting on eggs. I arrived at dusk and the birds were just settling down. There were plenty of new young including greylag, Egyptian and Canada goslings. The great crested grebes were also carrying around their little stripy youngsters. on the way to the water I spotted a number of orchids which I didn’t recognise. Thanks to the power of twitter this was soon remedied.

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Early Marsh Orchid taken at Nine in the evening with and old I phone so not quite doing this rarity justice

As the light had now gone I did a little bat detecting and was rewarded with the expected with common and soprano pipistrelles which picked midges off only a few inches from my face. I was pleased  to also get a noctule Britain’s largest bat on my walk and then reviewing my records I found I had recorded a rare barbastelle so all in all a good night for rarities even if none of them were avain.

No video this week just the visiting picture of a visiting rare bird seen not that far away last week and simply too beautiful not to show,

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Bee Eater perhaps appearing in  a village not far from you.

Photo Credit: Valentin Groza Flickr via Compfight cc

Summer Friends


May has brought record temperatures and a positively Summer feel to the village. Once again a lack of posts is down to too much time spent in the fields and not a lack of stuff to talk about. Whilst out counting skylarks and linnets on a local farm I heard a sound I have missed since last year the sharp and slightly abrasive calls of a pair of common terns who returned to my WEBS site in the last fortnight. Always worth looking out for over the village as they will travel to feed at any large lake and should be fishing until they depart in September.

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Common Tern with a light Lunch.

Photo Credit: Kate E Sutherland Flickr via Compfight cc

Having seen the terns I followed up my arable ramblings with a visit to my nearby WEBS site. Not quite all of the local warblers were singing but the melody of willow warbler was joined by garden warbler and punctuated by cetti’s warbler as I headed towards the water and as I passed through the oak woods chiffchaff and black caps tried to out sing each other. There were plenty of butterflies flitting through the dappled woodland groves with speckled wood and orange tips, large white, peacock and red admiral all present.

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Green Veined White. The Only butterfly that stopped long enough for a photo.

Down on the lake beyond the oaks there was plenty of noise with over 50 nesting black-headed gulls. out on the edge of their colonies were half a dozen common tern with one nesting right on the water’s edge. apparently not so bothered by the gulls was a nesting great crested grebe and hidden in the reeds and lakeside plants I am guessing were lapwings and oystercatcher also nesting as their partners patrolled nearby. In amongst the usual ducks was a lone male shoveller.

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Drake shoveler filtering food out of the water with his specialized bill.

As I watched the lakes birds I was treated to marsh tits and long tailed tits zipping backwards and forwards foraging for food. Three lesser black backed Gulls buzzed the breeding colony looking for a snack but were chased off by hordes of their little cousins. The greatest commotion came when the oystercatchers scrambled like fighters high into the air and the local geese started to clamour at the pass over by a red kite.

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Lesser black-backed gull. Scourge of nesting birds around the village.

Whilst I was out I thought I heard a distant call of a cuckoo now a rarity locally but one was heard later in the village over the paddocks. Both the calling cuckoo and the next surprise the return of the screaming swifts over the village were three days later than last year. Clearly no one had told them about the fine weather and it had been the local starlings that had been out soaring and flycathing as the sun shone.

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Splendid starling now replaced by screaming swifts overhead.

This posts video comes from a trail cam placed again under a pheasant feeder and this time close up to give a very personal view of a hungry soul. Due to the inquisitive nature of the diner shortly afterwards the camera was uprooted and caught only pleasant views of overhead clouds and not much else.

 

April highlights


April finally brought fine warm days and a chance to catch up with a range of bird surveys which may have restricted blogging, but not time in the great outdoors. The spring migrants have been streaming in with swallows returning to the local farms and the sounds of warblers filling the air.

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Lesser Whitethroat one of the recent warbling arrivals

Photo Credit: Mark_Coates Flickr via Compfight cc

As I carried out my annual early visit to a BBS survey site in Wymondham I was serenaded by the calls and songs of whitethroat, Lesser whitethroat, willow warbler and chiffchaff all eager to get on with summer breeding. It is perhaps a little sad that one of the most populated spots is due to be covered with car park and follows on from local housing development removing any last hope of a singing skylark or a mad brown hare. Fortunately my second more arable survey at Wicklewood had a hoste of skylarks and  yellowhammers to assuage my soul.

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Yellow Hammer available in countryside near you. But only in yellow.

Keen to get some photos of yellowhammers myself I had a look at a site near the village which has birds which take advantage of the local pheasant feeders. Pheasant feeders may not be good news in the long run for pheasants as there is no such thing as a free meal when the hunting party eventually arrives but I was intrigued to find out what else happened along to make the most of free food. My first surprise was that I accidentally disturbed a roosting barn owl, so whilst I still haven’t seen the village ones I have been treated to a close up of the silent hunter.

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Barn owl still missing from the village if not my life.

Whilst out placing the trailcam to check if the area might be suitable for photography I was treated to a flock of 25 Linnets a pair of red-legged partridges and a pair of buzzards soaring close overhead a well as a brief encounter with a roe deer who was as surprised to see me as I was him. The cameras were retrieved one evening and I managed to pick out pipistrelle bat with a detector but no sign of the owl. The cameras had been busy and there were a variety of avian visitors.

There are a variety of videos being uploaded on the usual you tube site (click here) but I included this one as it included my favourite jackdaws as well as a stock dove. The latter was one of many which benefited from a free feed Other birds seen included magpie, rook, crow, jay, dunnock, yellowhammer, robin, blackbird, red legged partridge. The next video was my favourite non avian highlight.

The badger was in good company with the grey squirrels, rabbits, wood mice, roe deer and muntjac deer as well as some less welcome brown rats. Clearly wildlife will always take advantage of a free meal and I look forward to monitoring the site to see what else is taking advantage of the feeders but also winter planted seed crops and extra wild bird seed also put in place by the landowner.

Spring and Fen magic.


This week saw undeniable signs of spring as both chiffchaff and blackcap started singing in the centre of the village, with many garden birds prospecting nest sites if they are not already nesting. The garden birds nemesis the sparrow hawk has also been in evidence as this normally hidden bird takes to the sky as part of its breeding display over the village.

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The appropriately named male blackcap announcing his return.

As the sun warmed up, people’s twitter accounts came alive with sightings of summer visitors returning to the uk and of bees butterflies and other winter sleepers waking and making themselves seen.  I was inspired to get out and make the most of the Easter break and see what arrivals had turned up on my WEBS sites. Gone were the winter ducks leaving some mallard and few tufted ducks for company. A pair of great crested grebes made the rest look average by putting on their spectacular dance routine.

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Difficult to improve on the springtime beauty of dancing grebes mirroring each others move.

Photo Credit: Walks Walker Flickr via Compfightcc

Once the grebes had danced out of sight and the spell was broken I had a scan about for any seasonal specials but could find none so headed back through the oak woods for home. I was serenaded by a singing Spring marsh tit whilst watching a squeaking treecreeper foraging on the trunks and boughs of the trees. I then went to a small area or reeds tentatively hoping for the first sedge warbler of the year but no sign of them so I stopped to watch a pair of nesting mute swans from a healthy distance. I was quietly minding my own business when I was interrupted by the unmistakable explosive song of a Cettis Warbler.

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Elegantly brown and usually heard but rarely seen Cettis warbler.

Photo Credit: frank_steeley Flickr via Compfightcc

The cettis warbler is another colonist and undeniable proof of a warming planet they first bred in the Uk in 1972 and has taken few decades to make it to my local patch so I look forward to his explosive song keeping me company on future trips. Today whilst thinking partly about how to get a photo of the Cetti’s and also how to entertain some young exploring assistants I opted for the Easter nature trail at the nearest RSPB reserve at Strumpshaw Fen. My young assistants were over the moon before we arrived at the reserve, with a field full of egyptian geese and brown hares and a couple of pheasants thrown in for good measure.

Photo Credit: saundersfay Flickr via Compfightcc

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Brown hare a crowd pleaser for a car full of young nature lovers

Once the appropriate nature trail kit had been acquired from the visitors center my young assistants were off scouting with barely a moment to stop and checkout the quartering marsh harriers and smart pochard in front of the hide although they were transfixed momentarily by a nesting moorhen. My assistants were very mud and log focussed turning up a variety of minibeasts and some surprised young amphibians.

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Very small newt on a small hand (smooth newt, the most common variety I believe)

Whilst my adventurers adventured and picnicked I was treated to the full medley of birdsong that I had picked upon my own patch including the ever elusive cetti’s warblers and we were also entertained by some brimstone butterflies and an early redadmiral. The Easter trail is on at Strumpshaw for only one more day and if  you are unable to make it there is, as with all RSPB reserves,  a packed year of events worth getting involved with whatever your age.

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Happy #Wildthings.

Video post this time is from my local barn-cam set up to hopefully capture the waited return of the village barn owls. Unfortunately the only hunting winged creatures were not the owls but some local bats now out from winter slumbers. I believe they are the common village pipistrelles but will let the bat experts put me right if not.

Willow tit


In a pre Easter wander I headed during a fine spring morning (Narrows it down quite a bit with all the April showers we have been having) towards the Church Farm and Hethersett Hall Loop with a view to catching perhaps some of the last winter birds and the first spring ones. Jackdaws and rooks were very vocal getting their nest building underway all around the village but were easily outdone in volume by a couple of drumming great spotted woodpeckers. The parkland around the Hall is easily one of the best spots to hear and see these birds locally.

 

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Spring Jackdaw out looking for nesting twigs.

The greater spotted woodpeckers were accompanied by a green woodpecker calling out on the parkland and high over Church farm two soaring buzzards wheeled on unseen early morning thermals. The Hall lake was my next spot to watch and wait and with the foliage still missing from most but the holly trees it is a good time to get views of the lake which can be hidden from the public in the summer. I was lucky enough to spot a small flock of diminutive teal in amongst the bigger local moorhens.

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Female teal somewhat duller than the drake but with the telltale green speculum feathers

The teal are probably likely to be heading off to the Baltic soon to breed as not many will stay local. Great tits and blue tits who will definitely stay local accompanied me on my return route. This weekend I have struggled to get much inthe way of birding highlights but have listened instead to those of others particularly Dan B who had been out wandering off the West Hethersett Loop round the parish pit and Market lane. Dan had heard the first singing chiffchaff picked up a trio of raptors in one camera shot with Kestrel Sparrowhawk and buzzard but trumped the lot with a calling Willow Tit.

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Not a willow but the very similar marsh tit and the closest I have got locally to its much rarer cousin.

The willow tit is red listed and has virtually dissapeared from all but a select few spots in the county so I will be very pleased if it turns up again and it will support tales of breeding pairs at nearby woods which I had assumed were only history but you never know what treasures you will uncover if you get out in the spring sunshine (if it ever returns)

Video post this week is from the BTO and partners and essential viewing for those looking to spot the local rarity.