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.

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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.

 

 

 

If you go down to the woods…


Early in the week I bumped into the guardian of the villages long term breeding barn owls but learnt that they have not been seen for several weeks which is an ill omen as their breeding season starts in earnest anytime soon. There have been plenty of tawny owls but the ghostly white birds are missing so let us know on twitter if you see them locally.

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Wise old brown. Tawny Owl.

A recent sighting which was more unusual in the village and in the same spot as the missing owls was a dog fox so look out for him and tweet any sightings to the usual address. Like the fox I decided to go nocturnal and recover an outstanding trail camera which could be used to monitor for missing owls. I put on my warmest stealth gear as the camera was at a badger sett and I hoped I might catch them out and about. I was aiming for the ninja look but probably ended up a bit more kung fu panda than I had hoped for.

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Fantastic new village resident. Dog fox.

On leaving the west side of the village I was serenaded by the last songsters of the evening the robin and the song thrush and shortly afterwards at least three separate male tawny owls were vying for mates. I had hoped to catch a picture of one but they are very good at making themselves scare as you approach and I had only one brief glimpse allevening as I caught one flying bird unawares. Arriving at the badger sett I gave up all hope of stealth as a I fell over a fallen tree spooking a nearby pheasant which in turn sent up a few dozen wood pigeons with a chorus of clapping wings

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cock pheasant possibly after a disturbed nights sleep

Having returned home I set about viewing the videos taken with some trepidation as the sett appeared quite undisturbed and lacking insigns of life when I had put the camera out.  I needn’t have worried as I was soon watching a badger.

And obviously not just the one badger, I was entranced as I watched them going about their daily tasks which appeared to be mostly scratching and making their beds. All of best clips are  available on the youtube channel (click here)   I have included another highlight which was of a young Roe stag with his new antlers in velvet.

I intend to get back out in the woods soon but next time in the daylight as I and my eight year old picked out the herald of spring that is the chiffchaff today whilst visiting Pensthorpe so it is time to start looking and listening for them locally.

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Returning from Africa just to delight us with their chifchaff ing.

 

 

Very Special Things


Last week I set out to do an early WEBS count at near by Marlingford and was not expecting much on a grey day but as I got to the water there was a now familiar form of a Great White Egret coming into land just out of my sight. This rarity has been a regular winter visitor and I was almost at the point of just taking it for granted, when another bird flew in from stage left and then they both flew off together. It’s a little too early to start planning what to call the chicks but nonetheless fantastic to see not one but two rarities together.

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Great white egrets en masse the shape of things to come. Global warming’s silver lining

Photo Credit: sherriestahl Flickr via Compfight cc

The egrets weren’t the only spectacle as a flock of 16 barnacle geese grazed by my vantage point and a pair of breeding oystercatchers bickered backwards and forwards past dancing teal. Then as I went to leave a woodcock flew up in front of me and zigzagged away between the trees. It was a great start to the week which saw a couple of sightings of red kite over the village with my own being in the dramatic morning light of a showery day with dark clouds and rainbow as a backdrop but picked out in all its glory by brilliant sunshine. Alas I was too slow for a photo so I will have my own vivid picture to remember, and you the reader will have to make do with one I prepared earlier.

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Captive yet captivating red kite

Having been fortunate enough to have seen some very special birds locally I was quite happy with my magical lot, when something special came to my attention on Friday afternoon. Far from her home in the arctic circle, or the set of a Harry Potter movie a female snowy owl had turned up to the Norfolk coast. It didn’t take much persuading before I and a couple of eight year old assistants were away to RSPB Titchwell on an owl hunt.

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Snowy owl record shot possibly the best one I saw all weekend albeit mine was of a Banham bird.

On arrival we headed straight past the hides and feeders stopping only for a quick snack before we joined the snake of telescope carrying people the two miles to Thornham point. My assistants were very excited by close up views of greylag geese and the flotsam and jetson on the tide line including every shell imaginable and a large number of starfish. After a quick briefing on the relative ease of finding shells and the similar ease with which an owl can fly away, we made haste and caught up with the target bird and its entourage of well behaved telescopes.

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Greylag goose ever the distraction.

Once the three of us had our fill of the surreal vision of a large white owl sitting on a beach with its backdrop of oystercatchers and cormorants we turned our attention to the tideline again and I had a quick scan of the sea. As we had headed on to the sand we had missed a small flock of scaup which appeared to have gone but they were replaced with a flock of long tailed duck instead so I was very happy as I added these to my life list along with the owl.

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Long tailed drake a thing of beauty.

Photo Credit: Derek Mickeloff Flickr via Compfight cc

My assistants whilst still very goose orientated stopped at the hides and helped pick out some splendid mediterranean gulls in their fine spring headwear amongst the more usual gulls. The waders included flocks of avocet, knot and black tailed godwit along with plenty of redshank and green and grey plovers.

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Tricky to beat the elegant beauty of the avocet.

Back at the visitors centre we managed another well earned snack and checked out the feeder stations which had the full spectrum of finches and tits but were extra special thanks to a trio of male siskins and a male brambling. It wasn’t quite over bird wise as we saw woodcock curlew and marsh harriers as we made our way out of the reserve . The brambing is still turning up in gardens in the village as recently as today so keep your feeders topped up and look out for them. If unsure as to what to look for check out the following video brought to us by the BTO and friends.

Whitlingham Country Park


On Saturday a fresh covering of snow had been deposited by the grandly titled ‘Beast From The East’ so I kicked off the morning with topping up the feeders, water and putting out apples for the garden visitors.  There were a few fieldfare over the village thanks to the cold but my efforts were rewarded with song thrushes and  blackbirds .All the local finches turned up including bullfinch and a relative rarity a great spotted woodpecker.

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Blackbird member of the festive garden gang.

Photo Credit: GrahamParryWildlife Flickr via Compfight cc as my shots were rubbish.

Post bird feeding and patch watching I found myself with a few hours minus my usual assistant so headed out to Whitlingham Country park with a view to standing about in the cold and staring up at the trees in the hope of seeing a small rare bird. Whilst my usual assistant is relatively keen on things natural the boredom and cold would have worn her down even with the possibility of duck feeding on offer.

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Room with a view. The remains of Whitlingham Hall with one of the broads beyond the snow.

Whitlingham is a great place to visit and birdwatch and apart from the crowds and some poorly managed dogs it doesn’t have too many faults. Anyone visiting the area would be advised to checkout the following link (click here) for James Emersons informative website and blog. I and most other local birders and nature bloggers had come to see a rare Arctic redpoll.

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Charming target bird the Arctic redpoll.

Photo Credit: Birder Griff Flickr via Compfight cc   as once again my photos were rubbish.

The first birds I saw at Whitlingham were stranded on the frozen Little broad and included black-headed gulls a common gull some coots and a moorhen. The ice made spotting them easy and assisted with the next usually elusive bird a water rail which dashed and skated round the edge of the broad. Soon I caught up with other birders and after not that much staring at trees a flock of siskins and lesser redpolls at least one less common mealy redpoll and the target bird the Arctic redpoll. also hanging about were a treecreeper and the obligatory snowy robin.

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Robin with added snow  (non photoshopped).

Whitlingham had plenty more to offer and a scan of the larger broad brought mallard, tufted duck, gadwall, great crested grebe, canada goose. Whilst watching  there was a fly over woodcock and shoveler along with plenty of swans which  sought out human company in the hope of a snack.

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Probably wont need a spotting scope for the swan watching at Whitlingham

Fortunately for me amongst the stuff I probably wouldn’t have spotted was a female smew picked out hugging the bank on the far side of the Broad near to where a bittern had been seen earlier. I ended the trip with more views of the redpolls in the company of another highly regarded blogger David author of Birds of the Heath, Check out his blog at the following link (click here)

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Female smew a delicate diving duck and occasional winter visitor.

After whitlingham I headed over to collect a trailcam from one of my WEBS sites and a chance to check out what had been leaving tracks in the snow. I soon found the expected prints including fox, badger, squirrel and muntjac deer. but was more surprised by the smaller avain footprints and beak holes of a feeding woodcock.

Woodcock holes made as it probed for worms under the snow.

I had hoped to another bring a video of owner of the beak but they were a bit too fast for the camera and so this is the grabbed screenshot.

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The end of the post and on the left of the shot the end of the woodcock disappearing in the snow.

 

 

White Spring Waders.


Spring is finally here. My last local WEBS count of February heralded fine weather with the return of one of my favourite local waders the ever noisy oystercatcher to its breeding territory. There were still a few winter ducks around with tufted ducks, gadwall and whistling wigeon in reasonable numbers. As I left the site I came upon a pair of Roe deer. I was just down wind of them so was only a few feet away whilst they fed. It certainly felt very like spring as the daffodils poked their heads out and the Greater spotted woodpeckers drummed the season in.

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Spring Herald, the Oystercatcher

Then in swept a healthy dose of the #BeastfromtheEast and suddenly Spring disappeared overnight under several feet of snow. This was met  with whoops of joy from my eight year old assistant. After hours of snow filled fun we set off with what seemed like most of the village to check out the local countryside which now looked like this.

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A view from the west Hethersett Loop

The weather appeared to have driven the birds from the countryside into local gardens where any filled feeders or refreshed water bowls are soon being visited by regulars and some not so regulars. Birds such as fieldfare are now visiting gardens so worth sticking out some fruit along with the usual bird food to help feed these and other thrushes. The best I managed to find whilst sledge pulling was this festive spring friend.

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Fluffed up to try and stay warm a distinctly grumpy looking robin.

Later on I retraced my steps  to recover a trail camera and whilst it was after dark a nearly full moon on the snow made a torch unnecessary. I made the most of snow to see what animals had been out before me. There were several roe deer tracks which were usually two animals side by side. A rabbit appeared to have come out from some brambles gone a few feet spun around in the snow (probably its first) and gone back into warmer cover. Then steadily through the meadow a bushy tailed fox had strolled through purposefully. The night also brought a nocturnal fly past of a woodcock which was startled to see me. These birds which feed on damp soil have also been turning up in large gardens in the cold weather again trying to find enough food to survive.

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The well camouflaged woodcock.

Photo Credit: Chris J Upson Flickr via Compfight cc

Video for this post gives an idea of how this rarely seen bird goes about feeding when it’s not so cold and highlights those amazing evolved eyes high up on its head to give it almost 360 degree range of vision to spot predators before they spot it.

Local highlights and sleepy wagtails


There have been a host of local sightings in the last couple of weeks in and around the village and the Birds of Hethersett has had a full revision which can be viewed by clicking on the red lettering above. The large flock of lapwings made another appearance over the fields around thickthorn and performed their usual pied aerial acrobatics. Probably my favourite sighting was the grey wagtail reported to me  which was seen near Church Farm which alas I didn’t catch up with.

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Grey Wagtail, one I prepared earlier but still hope to see locally soon.

Other local sightings of note came as expected on my WEBS survey at nearby Algarsthorpe with a sizeable flock of winter visitors in the shape of fieldfare. The mild winter appears to have kept the numbers of these and the visiting wigeon down. Another winter visitor the redwing provided a pleasant distraction whilst stuck in traffic at the Thickthorn roundabout as a small flock picked through the leaf litter only a few feet from the traffic last week.

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Redwing arguably the most attractive UK thrush

Photo Credit: Dale Ayres Flickr via Compfight cc

Having become acutely aware since my last post that all my sightings were from commuting I made a deliberate space in my day for some proper immersive natural time out and managed 20 minutes to check out the winter happenings at Hethersett Hall Lake. Fortunately the days are just starting to lengthen and allow a chance to bird. First off amongst the damp trees and mud of Kissing Alley where the squeaks of hidden blue tits and then the explosive clatter as a cock pheasant took off from under my feet.

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Blue tits definitely my quietest companions

Woodpigeons clattered about the tree tops as my late stroll disturbed them and then a robin started up his song along with a scolding wren and calling great tits. As I closed on the lake I could hear a lot of duck activity which was a good sign as I had hoped to see what the winter might have turned up in this underwatched waterway. January gales and leafless winter trees make this the perfect time to have a look at the lake (so long as you are wearing wellies). My first sighting was not ducks but a late afternoon great spotted woodpecker who watched me from on high.

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Great Spotted woodpecker a regular around the Hethersett Hall

Photo Credit: Rogier van der Weiden Flickr via Compfight cc

First on the lake was a coot then its cousin the moorhen. Eventually the quackers turned up in the form of a pair of mallard and a pair of gadwall. Soon my favourite call wailed  eerily across the lake as a little grebe made its presence felt and then its bigger more elaborate cousin appeared and added Great Crested Grebe to the Birds of Hethersett with a new patch record. Twenty minutes away from the rat race was productively concluded with a fly past buzzard.

Video offering this post comes courtesy of the Bushnell 6×50 Equinox Z night Vision equipment and is slightly shaky as it was on maximum zoom so as not to disturb sleepy pied wagtails.

Last week over 1000 birds were counted so as this was an opportunity to do some birdwatching which didn’t require daylight. I popped up to the front of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and had a look at several hundred wagtails perched in four smallish trees like feathery christmas tree decorations oblivious to the activity around them and making the most of the relative warmth.