Short days


I am sure even in winter the days used to be longer when I was younger. They appear to be almost non existent in the last few weeks with precious little time pre and post work to get in a birding fix. Fortunately the usual stead-fasts of early morning Cathedral peregrines  and evening pied wagtail roosts at the Norfolk and Norwich hospital bring a welcome relief and moments of winter magic.

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Cathedral Peregrine falcon keeping the pigeons nervous

Photo Credit: Kevin Fox D500 Flickr via Compfight cc

Weekend travels locally have seen the increase in swirling flocks of Linnets over the winter bird crop on the west of the village with anything up to 200 birds being seen along with growing numbers of chaffinches and the occasional yellow hammer and reed bunting for good measure. As the weather cools it will be interesting to see what other visitors turn up. whilst out I was also fortunate enough to bump into the local falconer  providing a good excuse to compare the goshawk with the peregrine.

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Goshawk up close easy to separate from his smaller cousin

In and around the village there is still plenty of winter action going on with regular fly overs of redwing and fieldfare with a lot of the latter to be seen in the fields on the rural outskirts particularly towards Great Melton along Market Lane. In the village the it is also easy to see the numbers of winter black-headed gulls building and bringing a splash of noise and light to some otherwise drab days.

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Look out for the rooftop Redwing.

Photo Credit: smir_001 Flickr via Compfight cc

The camera traps  out recently have caught all the usual critters including badger, fox, muntjac and roe deer, woodmice and squirrels but no particularly good footage so here is this posts video of a couple of young Roe bucks caught earlier in the year when the days were a bit warmer.

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Winter rarity


Short winter days are here but they come with benefits as the winter migrants make themselves known as soon as the winter sun comes up. Over the last weeks redwings and fieldfare can often be seen for those who remember to #lookup. The largest flock of fieldfare I have seen in the last fortnight was an impressive 65 birds and they were accompanied by a charm of 35 goldfinch adding to the spectacle.

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Fieldfare harbinger of winter snow

Photo Credit: Full Moon Images Flickr via Compfight cc

In a recently re-blogged post (available Here) we highlighted the bonus for winter birds of the local winter seed crops for birds planted by the great Melton Farms. I took a number of walks out through this area and the seed crops are now starting to weigh heavy with seed and attracting the farmland birds close to the village. The most obvious birds are perhaps the linnets which although they are small finches have been turning up in numbers with up to 80 birds at a time along with other birds accompanying them.

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Linnet generally a little brown job but the males have a pink chest and crown if they let you get close enough to see.

The linnets are often accompanied by the larger and more colourful yellow hammer but last week an even rarer associate was hanging around with them. I first noticed the linnets as they were mobbing a hunting Kestrel who was hunting field vole which are obviously benefiting from the seed bonanza. Then I noticed watching me from the nearby hedge a bird which I have not seen locally before.I quickly grabbed the camera for a record shot and pointed it out to my 9 year old companions who were bug hunting.

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Record shot of the latest rarity brought in by winter seed.

I have never seen a reed bunting locally although they are very occasionally seen in winter but this female like the linnets and hunting kestrel have all been brought into our lives by good farming practice and make a walk around the west hethersett loop especially on a sunny winters morning something to cherish.  During another similar walk near Great Melton I happened across one of the local goshawks not the wild one who has been terrorising the local wood pigeons but the local falconers bird getting ready for some winter hunting and I couldn’t resist taking a photo or two.

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A slightly warm male Goshawk panting and looking forward to some cooler hunting weather.

This posts video comes not from me but the BTO and partners and is useful for those partaking in a winter stroll and wanting to tell apart the farmland birds. In the meantime I will get out and recover the camera traps and see which of them may be starring next time.

 

 

Fifty shades of Grey


It has been a very long time since the last blog post which included the last half of September which didn’t really seem to produce much locally in terms of bird life. Whilst the early Autumn migrants started coming in over the coast whenever the weather was kind to them all I saw of note was the very regular flyovers by grey herons and cormorants. The latter presumably heading out to Hethersett Hall lake to fish  and the herons drifting in at all times of day to terrorize the ponds of the village.

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Grey heron, arguably villain of the ponds but spectacular as they drop in around the village.

In the last week or so the Autumn birds are drifting in to the area in good numbers and the local tawny owls are certainly making themselves heard with the females twit-ing and the males woo wooing back at them,  The BTO have just opened their tawny owl survey so if you fancy  helping them click here to find out how.

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Tawny Owl the only UK owl to hoot.

I have been doing some some farmland surveying over the last week which has been very pleasant in the Autumn sunshine and one afternoon I took a couple of young assistants who needed stick to make brooms for forthcoming celebrations. As we approached the farm area we were treated with some very close views of the local Pheasants closely followed by some partridges. Normally I would expect to see a couple of pairs of red legged partridges running wild but these birds were in a full covey with more and more appearing out of the long grass and best of all they weren’t the usual fare.

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A record shot of 1 of 15 Grey partridge.

It was truly heartening to see these UK birds doing well locally as they are red listed bird in serious decline. The birds have done very well as most of the ‘covey’ were this years young and seem to have avoided the local goshawk, which fortunately appears to prefer wood pigeons which are definitely not red listed. We also got to see the first flocks of fieldfare and redwing fresh in from Northern Europe and the first small flock of wintering lapwing sitting it out with a flock of stock doves. Coming soon another Autumn post as local treats keep arriving and in the mean time this posts’ video of another local partridge eater caught out in the daylight.

 

Birding highlights Home and Very away


With August coming to and end and summer migrants hot footing it to the continent and beyond it was time for the editorial team to take to the air and head south if not for the winter then at least some extended Summer Sun. With the feeders locally topped up for the birds we headed off for Spain and Sunny Malaga. This was a non birding trip but having viewed my urban namesakes video I was hopeful of some pleasant treats.

If you have time to watch the video you will see it has plenty to offer and if you haven’t here is what we saw. The most obvious bird whether you are at the beach or walking the city streets is the monk parakeet which exists in the UK in only a tiny corner of dockland London and is persecuted as potentially dangerous due to its habit of building large communal stick nests. However down town Malaga doesn’t appear to have collapsed and the parakeets are an attractive alternative to pigeons bringing a smile to all with their comedy antics.

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Parakeets and pigeons

What appeared to me to be one of the best spots for a chance to photograph birds was the walk up the slopes high above the city to the ancient Gibralfaro Castle and after a long climb I was rewarded with a view of a bird I have missed seeing in the UK this summer flitting about the Moorish ornamental gardens a spotted flycatcher.

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Summer visitor. A spotted flycatcher

Next was another bird found in the UK but not one we will be seeing anytime soon in Hethersett as it is restricted in this country to small pockets of Scotland. A small fountain gave the opportunity for my 9 year old assistant to spot the bird taking on water in the sunshine of mid day and me to catch it on a quick photo.

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Distinctive member of the tit family , a crested tit.

Malaga had a few other UK birds on show in the form of collared doves  and house sparrows along with some subtly different locals such as spotless starlings and yellow legged gulls. Perhaps the most special having lost them recently in the UK where the common swifts. They would fly every evening over Malaga’s Ancient bullring and come to rest on the surrounding apartments occasionally calling as they settled to sleep in the fading sunset.

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Bullring, great for swifts but not so great for bulls…..

Having returned home it was time to check out the local changes and a quick walk around Wong farm produced what maybe its last summer swallow which was waiting for me to arrive on the telephone wires only to fly off south on my arrival and not return. A couple of house martins appeared soon after to harass a female kestrel which soared over the stable buildings. As I walked round the area disturbing the ever present wood pigeons I was also treated to a summer serenade by two singing blackcaps which may or may not leave with the other summer visitors. I also managed to photographically catch up with a new butterfly for the patch.

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Pretty but fast flying little butterfly a Small Copper.

My Webs visit on the same day hinted at the season to come as the migrants come and go with the first two wigeon arriving back from Northern Europe and a steady build up of coots on the mere. Two lesser black backed gulls also dropped in for a bath and they and numerous other gulls are now to be seen regularly in the fields around the village as they are ploughed and harrowed. The video for the post having arrived early leaves two final photos from my photographic hide which the birds and animals are starting to get used to and should provide some good photos in the future.

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A great tit which is a bird I was expecting

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A marsh tit a pleasant local surprise.

Summers End


August presses towards September with its usual quiet birding as the post breeding birds moult and hide out of sight and generally lay quiet. The garden is often full of squeaky youngsters including great tits, coal tits, blue tits and long-tailed tits and are joined by the occasional young robin or blackbird. The skies seem strangely empty after the last screaming swift was seen over the village on the 11th August.

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Scruffy young robin typical visitor at this time of year

This is the best time to pick out swallows and house martins all around the village but only as stray birds head inexorably south to their wintering grounds in Africa. There is still a chance to see swallows and house martins locally with Wong farm and the Around the Wong walk being good for swallows filling the wires with waiting birds. This weekend a trip to the Bell PH at Marlingford produced fine ginger beer , house martins still visiting nests and soaring buzzards overhead so also a good spot to visit.

The Bell Public House sign

Perfect spot for Lunch with house martins.

An August visit to my local WEBS site also produced a late surprise for summer in terms of another visitor who should soon be heading back to warmer climes. I had hoped for a migrant sandpiper or other wader but none were about so I set to scanning the lake for other birds. There were plenty of young black headed gulls some still slightly downy. A grey heron stalked the edge of the reeds no longer considered a threat by previously anxious Gull parents. A few cormorants had returned after the gulls had become less quarrelsome and sat drying themselves on the edge of the island. As I watched them a delicate white bird flew past and revealed itself as one of this years common tern nestlings now fully grown.  Presumably as all the others have flow including its siblings and parents it will be finding its way to the coasts of Africa on its own or with friend it meets along the way.

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Echos of July with Common tern feeding young bird.

Photo Credit: Michele Lamberti Flickr via Compfight cc

The first of this posts video offerings was taken of a night time visitor near the local badger sett. This little wood mouse is one of a number who have taken advantage of food left primarily for the birds.

The second video was taken in the same spot. It is my first of one of the regular night time callers around the woods, a tawny owl caught in the rain clearly hoping for a wood mouse to make itself known.

 

RSPB Lakenheath Fen


With July drawing to a close the night of the RSPB’s big wild sleep out was fast approaching. This a once a year opportunity to visit one of many RSPB reserves for an overnight visit and experience the after dark magic of the reserves as well as the usual day time stuff. The weekend before I had taken another annual trip to Brundall, on the broads which was a bit quiet with all the visiting warblers now silent and only a token handful of last swifts and a few swallows filling the sky. Something much bigger did give us a spectacular fly over though.

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The unmistakable sight and sound of a Lancaster bomber. (I wasn’t expecting that)

  The weekend of the sleepover approached and our places were booked at RSPB Lakenheath only some 50 minutes from home. With weeks of baking temperatures and still nights it was perfect for camping. Of course weather watchers will have spotted the only two windy rainy days for weeks fast approaching but we set off  undaunted. Tents were quickly pitched on sandy ground with the only obvious neighbours the very vocal green woodpeckers.

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Green woodpecker posing nicely (as opposed to the Lakenheath Birds).

Photo Credit: conrad_hanchett Flickr via Compfight cc

First on the agenda, post tent setting, was a quick trip round the reserve before any rain joined the winds. We were on the look out for the Lakenheath Big 5 which if memory serves me correctly are marsh harrier, bearded tit, bittern, crane and kingfisher. We saw none of these but were treated to some arial acrobatics from a hobby hawking for dragonflies.

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Scenic Lakenheath from one of several great vantage points

The viewpoint over joist fen is a great place to practice a little mindfulness and wait for good things to turn up and so we did. The livelier of my two nine year old assistants for the weekend chased butterflies, dragonflies, crickets and anything else that crawled whilst the other assisted me in spotting the bird life.

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Ruddy darter dragonfly trying to avoid being caught by hobby and my assistants.

There were the usual collection of moorhens and coots feeding young accompanied by some drab mallards. There were arial flyovers by little egrets and black-headed gulls but no sign of the big five although bitterns had been seen during the week. Next on the tour was the photographic hide which was new to me and a welcome shade from the early sunshine.

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The photographic Hide with a couple of keen occupiers

The hide looks promising for winter and there had been some early use and close ups of water rail but our midday visitors were young blue and great tits.

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Young great tit in the mid day sun

The evening entertainment after an afternoon of bug hunting and watching the fish in the visitors centre was to be dusk walks with bats and barn owls. The barn owls did put in an appearance quartering the marshes if a little delayed bu t the planned bat detecting was thwarted by heavy rain showers. A feast of marshmallows and hot chocolate by the camp fire was fine with my assistants after the rain had passed and they  have detected enough bats previously not to be disappointed. A dusk hobby and views of the late waders and other waterbirds completed a good day and the rain did not try to hard to keep us awake.

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Garden Tiger Moth one of my favourites.

Photo Credit: Nick Dobbs Flickr via Compfight cc

The next morning after a hearty breakfast was filled with pond dipping and moth traps with a good variety of crowd pleasers including my favourite the tiger moth. Having been to engaged to get the camera out I opted instead for some butterfly action which was tricky in the high winds. Despite the rain dampening some activities the weekend was enjoyed by all in no small part to the enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff.

DSC_0060.JPGSlightly worn Red Admiral enjoying the buddleia by the visitors centre.

The  week saw the last of the village swifts disappearing as migration gets under way and we already start to look for Autumn on the horizon. Several mini migrant explosions have already started to occur and I found an opportunity to dash out to Great Yarmouth to check out a number of pied flycatchers that dropped into the cemetery. Alas my late dash was only good enough for the briefest glimpse of a female and certainly not the classic view of the male bird shown below.

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Male pied flycatcher

Photo Credit: Simon Stobart Flickr via Compfight cc

In non avian related news the editor in chief of Hethersett Birdlife was caught on camera this week on another splendid pied creation so look out for him around the village and at local birding hot-spots.

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Hethersett Birdlife gains some new wheels for local birding trips.

Video for the post comes from the Badger sett and my photographic hide and is in keeping with the black and white theme for the latter part of the post.