February Goshawk and other highlights


February has kicked off sporting as much grey as January. Fortunately the cold weather is pushing the garden feeders to bursting point and its difficult to feel down when half a dozen green finches are seeing off  four goldfinches and a couple of long tailed tits only to be muscled out by a pair of bullfinch and a couple of starlings, whilst three male chaffinches whirl around in a burst of testosterone charged activity.

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Snowdrops out showing Winter is here but fear not Spring is coming

Locally I have finally been catching up with some outstanding birds for 2018 around the village including an unexpected pair of fly over cormorants a lesser black backed gull calling away in the main street with its sound of the coast It has also been good to catch up with some slightly smaller common gulls floating about and keeping the occasional ridge tile warm.

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A somewhat summery version of the Humble Common Gull

Last week I took a brief, day off, opportunity to catch up with Great Melton Heronry whilst the trees are still leafless in an attempt to count the nests which will hopefully be full of grey herons in the spring. The January storms had made a couple of nests look a bit worse for wear but there were still seven nests and that was the successful score last year. No sign of herons just a pair of noisy Egyptian geese and some woodpigeons to keep me company.  However I then had the good fortune to meet the local falconer and his male goshawk.

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Very scary eyes of a male Goshawk look closely and you will see the reflection of the nervous camera man under those distinctive white eyebrows

Goshawks were like a number other birds of prey driven close to extinction at the end of the 19th century but were ‘reintroduced’ probably by the falconers including some no doubt who lost their birds to the wild. Come the spring warm mornings in the Brecks will be the best place to see the displaying males although they occasionally turn up around Norwich .

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Bird and handler comfortable in each others trusted company, giving an idea of the scale of this most adept of hunting birds.

As well as treasured time with the killer goshawk I also got the chance to set out some cameras at a small pond which is being fed for wildfowl. The pond was empty at the time of feeding which involves spreading out grain on the banks but has held large numbers of teal and a few greylag geese which were joined recently by a wild pink footed goose which hang around for a couple of days and had perhaps become separated in the fog from one of the flocks that have been traveling the Wensum valley

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Pink Footed Goose out of his comfort zone and far from his arctic summer haunts.

Pink footed goose Credit: Whistling Joe Flickr via Compfight cc

Various stars on the latest video which was a montage of a week of night time footage at my local WEBS site. None of the videos on their own seemed ideal so with the help of some simple editing software called Video Pad the passing nightlife has been condensed. Look out for Muntjac deer, woodmouse, Roe deer, badger, fox and rabbit.

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January hits and misses


The short dark days of January have continued apace and I even tried to get my birdwatching fix in by trying a nocturnal walk (around the Wong) but it was owl free and little else moved or squeaked other than some of the local brown hares which I only managed to pick out thanks to my night vision equipment. My less expensive equipment in terms of my ears did pick up the call of a lapwing though and whilst I couldn’t find it in the dark it was unmistakable and as eerie as the roe deer that called further  away .

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Lapwings

Lapwings Credit: Uli-Joe Flickr via Compfight cc

My single calling lapwing was joined by a flock of nearly a hundred birds passing over the outskirts of the village from Thickthorn on Saturday. These birds have been missing from the Birds of Hethersett so it was great to see them and even better to hear that up to 300 birds have been seen in nearby little Melton. Whilst I was catching up with the locals I also found out that I had missed out on a flock of up to 25 Hawfinch also seen locally and the annual great white egret.

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A great year for these with many birds visiting from the continent Hawfinch with a bill built for cracking the most stubborn seeds

Photo Credit: guiguid45 Flickr via Compfight cc

Not to be totally at a loss in respect of these birds I had a quick foray out to collect a trail cam. No obvious signs of the birds although plenty of calling nuthatches and great tits where the hawfinches had been. My first sightings were of a trio of flashing white rumps in the form of a pair of bullfinch and then a jay. They all seemed in a hurry as was I. On collecting the camera I allowed myself a quick peek at the lake and there stood on an island in the middle was the bright white form of the Egret a very reasonable year tick for the local patch.

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Great white egret possibly caught in a January storm

Photo Credit: wplynn Flickr via Compfight cc

As with half a million other citizen scientists my Big Garden Bird watch scores are in  and the totals despite some late feeder filling are goldfinch 2, magpie 1, blackbird 1, collared dove 2, chaffinch 3, jackdaw 1, blue tit 2, house sparrow 1, greenfinch 3, starling 2, wood pigeon 1, dunnock 1, robin 1.  All tallied and ID’d by my capable eight year old assistant.

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Top of the spots Greenfinch taken on my garden fence before January’s storms gave it a more horizontal look. (the fence not the Greenfinch)

 

Whilst I am testing out some new video software there will be no video until the next post but instead I offer the following from a recent visit to Pensthorpe.

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Red squirrels only out cuted by the parks collection of harvest mice.

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Dynamic shot of young black-headed gull one of the village stalwarts.

New Year records broken


A new year is underway and the first birds of the year are filling peoples gardens and lists and bringing new pleasure. Dont forget to list them yourselves on the Big Garden birdwatch for just an hour on the weekend of the 27th to the 29th.

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First Garden bird of the year Female chaffinch.

January has picked up with grey days just as December closed but even grey days have their own highlights. A trip to the brecks to chase down some parrot crossbills did not lead to any crossbills, or sunshine, but myself and my eight year old assistant got to watch an otter fishing in the river.

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My assistants first wild otter.

The weather was grey again for my first WEBS count of the year at nearby Marlingford but undaunted I made my way through damp tracks to the waterside. Whilst all around was grey I was serenaded by pink bullfinches and the sound of calling geese. The latter turned out to be 76 canada geese and a similar number of greylags. I picked through them all to make sure there was nothing a bit wilder or more ornamental but apart from a couple of last years hybrid birds there was nothing out of place.

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1 of 76 but not a record which is apparently 205 locally which would be a sight and sound.

Next I moved onto ducks which had clearly arrived in numbers to keep the local mallards company I counted good numbers of wigeon, teal, gadwall, pochard but the prize for big numbers went to tufted ducks most of which were snoozing and settled for the evening in the end I counted 180 which is a local record by a long way. I am not sure what accounted for these numbers of birds from Iceland and Northern Europe settling locally I am just glad they did.

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Elegant male Tufted duck in winter finery.

Video highlight for this post is one from the garden feeders just to test your ID skills and give an idea of what you may miss if you dont do some big garden birdwatching.

The video is poor focus as I only had the cheap XIKEZAN camera available and as regular visitors will know I much prefer the CRENOVA but hopefully this will be capturing something interesting soon. In the mean time check out the Suburbanbirder channel on youtube for new videos and the back catalogue before Amazon or Netflix buy up the rights.

Hethersett, Great Melton and Marlingford a years highlights.


In previous years I have counted the different species seen around the village and got a reasonable 65 in 2015 and an improved 69 in 2016. This year with my efforts spread around the local area I didn’t count my local total religiously, just got them all listed on bird track and tallied them up at the end of the year. Perhaps the highlight this year was a chance to watch the local barn owls up close without worrying about counting them.

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This years favourite, the barn owl.

So what did I see with no pressure to get the numbers in well here they are in alphabetic order:

Barn owl, barnacle goose, black headed gull, blackbird, blackcap, blue tit, bullfinch, buzzard, canada goose, carrion crow, chaffinch, chiffchaff, coal tit, collared dove, common gull, common tern, coot, cormorant, dunnock, egyptian goose, fieldfare, gadwall, goldcrest, goldfinch, great tit, green woodpecker, greenfinch, grey heron, greylag goose, herring gull, house martin, house sparrow, jackdaw, Jay, kestrel, kingfisher, lesser black-backed gull, lesser whitethroat, linnet, little egret, little owl, long-tailed tit, magpie, mallard, mistle thrush, moorhen, mute swan, nuthatch,

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Garden favourite, the nuthatch.

oystercatcher, pheasant, pied wagtail, redwing, red kite,  robin, feral pigeon, rook, skylark, song thrush, sparrow hawk, starling, stock dove, swallow, swift, tawny owl, tree creeper,wigeon, whitethroat, woodpigeon, wren, and yellow hammer. So to save you counting, 71 species. It appears that not concentrating has worked wonders or perhaps a better knowledge of the area built up over time.

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First time recorded on patch, this year the elegant Little Egret

The year of birding ended with a trip to nearby Algarsthorpe Marshes to carry out the last WEBS survey of the year. The recent heavy rains had made the local rivers swell but I wasn’t expecting quite how much. The marshes occasionally get a bit of a flood but tend to still stay relatively green but not so this week.

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Where there were fields there are lots of birding opportunities for a man with a telescope. 

Ably assisted by my eight year old note taker we soon whizzed through the usual ducks and geese and 90 black headed gulls which the floods had brought in. New on this stretch of marsh were shoveler, tufted duck and a pair of common sandpipers. Ordinarily they might have been hiding amongst the river banks and tufts of grass but with the floods there was nowhere to hide.

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Shoveler ducks enjoying the floods.

This year has seen the first year of camera traps spread around the village as well as Great Melton and Marlingford.Whilst they have caught some birds including my favourite a woodcock. They have primarily recorded mammals so in the tradition of this post here they are.

Badger, field vole, fox, grey squirrel, hedgehog, muntjac deer, polecat, brown rat and roe deer. The only two I have seen locally but not captured are red deer and otter so a couple of targets for next year in amongst other nature filled wanderings.

Final video of the year is of my favourite find of the year the local badger sett.

 

 

Still Waters.


Late last week I woke in the early hours to discover a good blanket of snow covering the ground, perfect for some festive photos. When I woke at a more sensible time a few hours later the clouds and rain had pretty much removed all traces of winter wonder . Undeterred I made use of a couple of spareish hours to get my December WEBS survey done at nearby Marlingford. The water levels on the lake were very high making for big flocks of ducks including a record count of my favourites the pochard.

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Smart drake Pochard one of 13 males accompanied by two females.

Pochards are easier to see in the winter as a few hundred breeding pairs in the UK are joined by tens of thousands from Russia and Eastern Europe. The pochards were joined by a number of busy coots a few tufted ducks and another group of ducks, again overwintering from the colder parts of Europe and another favourite the more subtle Gadwall.

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Drake Gadwall with its white flash and subtle scalloped finery.

Added to the count where a number of mallards and they were joined by a noisy splashdown of fifty greylag geese returning to roost from a day foraging in local fields. A quick walk through the local woods was enough to work out where all the missing cormorants were from my count sitting in their other favourite spot on top of some tall trees preparing for a nights sleep.

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Non sleeping cormorant.

Closer to home the bird feeders where showing some frantic action with a range of birds using the opportunity to stuff themselves with extra protein before cold nights. The usual fare of great tits, coal tits, blue tits, chaffinch, greenfinch, long-tailed tits, robin and blackbird were joined by something a bit more colourful.

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Early christmas present. Ever bright male Bullfinch

Whilst I was revelling in my Christmas present, several sightings in Norwich this week of a non native, but flourishing species hint at Christmas future, and almost put my Bullfinch in the shade.

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The shape of Christmas yet to pass, Ring -necked Parakeet

Photo Credit: Matt C68 Flickr via Compfight cc

Having missed out for now on local parrots I headed out for an hour or two on the Church farm and Hethersett hall loop with plans to see what was about on the waters of the hall lake. I was soon followed through the ivy covered splendor of Kissing Alley by a host of squeaking goldcrests and blue and coal tits. The goldcrests followed me round the walk usually hiding out of sight. When they appeared the drab moist air turned them into little dark shadows not worth getting the camera out for.

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St Remigius Church to give an idea of just how grey grey can be.

Having not got my camera out I was soon given a great photo opportunity as a buzzard watched me from a few feet away and then swept across the fields in front of me. My luck was little better at the lake which held a single gadwall and a couple of busy moorhen. As I made my way through the mud and damp I was treated to several green woodpeckers calling along with some linnet. My favourite however was an exaltation of skylarks which occasionally called and hinted at their summer song and memories of sunny warm days.  This post’s video offering comes from a recent trail-cam at my WEBS site.

The Muntjacs on the video are often only caught on film at night so although not the best light still worth showing and with an added green woodpecker calling in the background for those that spotted it. Yesterday was the winter solstice as well as National Robin day so I leave you with longer days and Christmas greetings from my red breasted friend.

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Happy #Robinday.

 

 

 

Winter battery re-charge


All blogging guides suggest regular posting if possible twice a week and on set days to ensure you give your audience what they want. So after three weeks of writer’s block forced by short dull days and  too much work, ensuring darkness at both ends of the working day my apologies. Locally there have been highlights with perhaps the most stunning being a brief appearance in the village by the winter jewel that is the waxwing.

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Single waxwing doing what they do best, scoffing berries

In an effort to beat my malaise I headed out to the great Melton end of my favourite walk the West Hethersett Loop. On arrival mid afternoon the day was greying cold and breezy and the only sign of life was windswept grass. I almost didn’t make it out of the car wondering if there might not be something better to do in the warm. I started off at a small pond which always hums with avian life but it was all winter quiet.

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Cold water solitude

After a few minutes life appeared first a calling moorhen then an acrobatic troupe of long-tailed tits who were accompanied by great tits and blue tits. shortly afterwards another calling but hidden bird a bullfinch. Following the ivy covered winter hedgerows nearby I was entertained again by another troupe of long-tailed tits and this time whilst I watched their antics they were joined by a squeaking friend as a goldcrest briefly popped out of the foliage disappearing as soon as he had appeared.

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Long-tailed tits being careful about where they sit.

Having been refreshed by the previously hidden wildlife more started to appear . There was no missing a noisy display flight by four Egyptian geese and a couple of crows and a black headed gull looked on in distaste. Down at the Great Melton Reservoir the moorhens were again present and this time slightly more visible, the highlight was a flock of 21 mallards the largest number I have counted here.

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Splendid male mallards hanging out.

Whilst counting ducks I became aware of a powerful bird of prey barreling towards me. It was a huge female sparrowhawk who effortlessly disappeared across the adjacent field in seconds with a few flaps of her wings, Almost in response a couple of buzzards started calling and then circling the lake only to be followed by a return pass by the big sparrowhawk. The raptors raised spirits and heart rate and were not to be the last of the day. During the evening accompanied by my 8 year old assistant we spotted a male peregrine on top of Wymondham Abbey tucking into a late tea.

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Peregrine with tea.

Photo Credit: PaulBalfe Flickr via Compfight cc

Videoing this week comes from my efforts to add to the list of local mammals caught on film. Adding to the long list of deer and badgers and the recent polecat I hoped to capture otter but having failed to spot any obvious signs it was always a gamble. Having failed to capture any mammal life I did manage the following which captures a cold misty morning without having to leave the comfort of your home with some pheasants for good measure.

In the event anyone has been missing their video fix the next is of the same patch with a passing grey heron.

For those looking for wild entertainment in the county this weekend there are a couple of quality options with a large and occasionally accommodating flock of parrot crossbills at Santon Downham or the yearly winter offering of bean geese and corvids at Buckenham.

November updates


November started with an early morning stroll on the West Hethersett loop with thoughts of checking out the visible migrating birds or ‘Vizmig’ as it is known. Early mornings from a good vantage point will reward the watcher with high flying migrating thrushes, larks and finches.  As I set out from The twin Church towers at Great Melton there was the usual calling of local jackdaws and crows and the only bird overhead was a solitary black-headed gull.

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Great Melton so religious one church was not enough.

The challenge with visible migration is identify small birds often flying high overhead but fortunately the first couple of birds were obligingly calling and could be identified by their flight calls as skylark and linnet. Both these birds can be found locally but both appeared to be making deliberate journeys high and to the south suggesting they were on route elsewhere. Next up was a local bird heard again and very elusive a bullfinch and one which appears to be very vocal recently perhaps getting some early pair bonding in.

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Male bullfinch often the view is little more than a flash of that white rump so enjoy this one.

Photo Credit: eerokiuru Flickr via Compfight cc

After a trip round the Great melton reservoir produced only moorhens and mallard I headed back along the field margins when I heard the ‘chacking’ of three thrushes who flew up and away showing their definitive white underwing patches to go with their definitive calls my first fieldfares of the year fresh in from Northern Europe.

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Berry guzzling Fieldfare.

Photo Credit: orthochrom Flickr via Compfight cc

Later in the day I happened on another unexpected but welcome surprise and a first for me in nearby Wymondham I saw a large bird sitting silhouetted by the sunset on top of the Abbey. I had my telescope handy so checked I had seen what I thought was a peregrine falcon and was rewarded with a male bird staring back down the scope at me. I anticipate the new nest box and camera will see plenty of peregrine action in the new year.

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Not a peregrine but a more appropriate Remembrance Sunday shot of the tower of Wymondham Abbey.

Video of the post this time of the regular favourite the Roe deer with this stag getting a little closer than some and in the daylight hours rather than as so often nocturnally.