August Tonics.


August is with us and it is a time when birds become harder to find with many starting to moult and hide away skulking in the hedgerows. Now you need to get up with the lark for the best chance to catch up with our feathered friends as they are more active at the break of day. This week I took a number of young assistants for a camp out on Beckhithe Meadow to make the most of the dawn activity as well as the nocturnal stuff. Our first surprise was no however a bird but a very striking spider.

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Wasp spider unmistakeable but harmless.

The wasp spider is a relative newcomer to the UK and is spreading slowly North but predominantly found in the South of the country. Male wasp spiders are smaller than this female and have to tread carefully around their mate choosing only to mate when she is emerging into adult form and her fangs are hopefully too soft to eat him. After the spider we sat down to campfire and marshmallows with an evening serenade of tawny owls and little owls.

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Sleepy Tawny Owl presumably having sung us to sleep and woken us at about 5.00 am

In the morning the local birds were all active moving from tree to tree and around the meadow as they found their breakfast. The most common bird was not the expected Village classic the woodpigeon but the Goldfinch with a charm of 30 flitting around the meadow and feeding on thistle down. Other finches were well represented with linnets and bullfinches although the latter stayed out of sight most of the time.

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Goldfinch hiding on the tree tops between feeding.

Some of the summer visitors were on show with families of whitethroats and calling chiffchaff amongst the trees. In one of the large oaks a robin sang and a songthrush sunbathed. Flocks of blue, great and long-tailed tits foraged and a great spotted woodpecker flew in to the tree tops and also foraged with them appearing not to be a threat  to them now they are all mobile and grown up.

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female great spotted woodpecker whose nestling snatching is over for another year.

As well as some morning meadow watching I have also carried out this months WEBS surveys locally and the highlights have been close up views of hunting kingfishers but the images of those will be mine alone as I hadnt taken the camera. I had hoped pehaps to see a passage wader or two but only a single common sandpiper showed itself. in fact there was very little to show at all with no ducks or geese other than a couple of sleeping Egyptian geese.

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The kingfisher photo I might have taken had my camera been handy.

Photo Credit: jean-lucfoucret Flickr via Compfight cc

With the many birds  missing (although I did later find 180 missing lapwing on some local fields) I thought I would try my hand at Identifying some flowers which are much easier to see in August. My ID’s are beginners so if they are wrong let me know and I can get them right next time.

Herb Robert

Herb Robert

Arguably the prettiest little flower was what I believe is herb Robert used traditionally to treat headaches nosebleeds and as a tonic for a stomach upset as well as an antiseptic and a mosquito repellent.

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Agrimony

This delicate stem of flowers if I have correctly ID’d is agrimony a herb apparently ideal for healing musket wounds and warding of witchcraft. Perhaps its most useful folklore property is that if placed under the pillow of a sleeping person they will not wake up until it is removed. Worth remembering for new parents I imagine.

Knapweed

Knapweed

My final offering of  the post is knapweed which is a very robust yet attractive flower with a variety of medicinal uses including assisting with bruises sores scabs and sore throats. According to folklore a woman could also place it in her blouse and use it to deect the man of her dreams when its petals opened. Moral for August is if you fail to see the birds have a look and see what else is lurking that may do you some good.

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Wood warbler and other July highlights


Wow where did July go? I was just getting used to keeping my new bird bath topped up during, the usual, hottest temperatures ever recorded and it is nearly over. The month has also brought out the usual annual avian highlight of seagull abuse and tales of eaten dogs in the national press. Fear not however villagers, whilst there more lesser blackbacked gulls are to be seen and heard at  this time of year none of them have been reported as eating dogs or small children.

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Lesser Blackbacked gull on the look out for a small canine snack

The hot weather has also meant that the local buzzards have again been spectacular over the village and drawn the usual attention from the local crows and last week I noticed them attracting mobs of swifts shadowing their activities. I cant belive that the buzzards present a threat to agile swifts but I guess the fact that they are a predator is enough to draw a reaction.

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Jet Black village Carrion Crow threatened by very little outside of Buzzards.

This months local surveying was done early, along with some assistance provided by myself and a number of hard working accomplices young and old at the county wildlife site at Beckhithe Meadow (Click HERE to read about the highlights of the latter). Out on the local lakes the last of the awaited broods of youngsters hit the water with young tufted ducks like crazy black pom poms out on the water with their parents whilst the common tern chicks had fledged and followed their parents begging for food,

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Proud father , Tufted duck.

Whilst out checking the ducks I bumped into one of the relatively trusted regulars who dropped into conversation that they had heard a wood warbler singing not far away but had not seen it for a few days. After my recent delight at hearing  a quail on the same patch I wasn’t going to be blessed with another rare singer so leave you with this video highlighting what is  one of my favourite songsters.

Quail and other June highlights


June in the village has mostly been rainy as far as I can tell in between working. I now have something akin to a jungle in the back garden and there may well be some birds in there but they are quite difficult to locate. Fly over birds though have been quite spectacular with a  red kite, a buzzard and also a  common tern .

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Record shot of the latest garden tick. Flyover Red Kite

The red kite also made a highlight of my last BBS survey of the year with a single bird low over head as I completed my Wymondham square. Alas this was the only real highlight as continued urbanisation steadily removes the wild spaces and the associated birdlife. The weather hasnt been bothering the ducks on my WEBS surveys and there have been a string of successes with gadwall, mallard and shoveller all presenting broods along with young great crested grebe, egyptian and canada geese, lapwings and oystercatchers.

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Egyptian geese with young

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Lots of mallard babies this year

Away from the ducks the wet weather has probably caused some havoc with young lives a sudden rise in water levels wiped out the majority of this years local common tern population and will have made life difficult for insect eaters especially the likes of swallows and swifts. I have been following the life of a hole in a tree this spring and after some nuthatches were driven out a pair of great spotted woodpeckers they have raise a brood with no illeffects from the weather.

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Ready to go young great spotted woodpecker

Earlier in the week I went out primarily to check some of my local WEBS sites for bats which had been out foraging most evenings and I was rewarded with three types of Pipestrelle and a noctule bats before I became distracted by a calling bird. New bird calls are always exciting and instantly leap out as unusual when you are so used to listening to the commoner species when surveying. So the Wet my lips call of a singing Quail never heard before other than on an ap was one of these special events.

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Another Great Spotted woodpecker. Damp mother caught in the recent rain. No bats or quail as they are tricky to photograph at dusk

Now the chance of a once in a lifetime sighting of a quail drew me back to my WEBS site the next morning and I started out close to where I had heard the bird the night before and took in a count of the usual species of moorhen, grey heron, mallard and kingfishers which darted backwards and  forwards  with piping calls. I was also treated to a couple of pairs of breeding reed bunting which I hadn’t previously seen in the area.

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Moorhen not my target species just one of the locals

Quail are migrant birds flying in from Africa every year (click here for more details) and they are notoriously difficult to locate throwing their call and being small and brown hiding in long grass so it was no surprise that it took two and a half hours of patient tracking and then waiting before I managed to get a glimpse of the bird when he briefly came out into the open. Alas a singing bird in June almost certainly means no mate but perhaps next year although they have not been recorded locally in living memory.

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No quail again as he was too quick, but a very pleasant bee orchid from the quail field.

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No still no quail but one of sevral painted lady butterflies another African migrant fromthe Quail field and cropping up around the village

 

Of swifts and things


The first swift of the year hung on an invisible thread over my back garden last Friday and gave my gardening the once over before moving on. The first sighting of the year is always a special moment like catching up with a special friend you just see in the summer holidays. By the weekend the first village birds had arrived screaming and wheeling and they join the Admirals Way house martins and the swallows at Wong Farm for those that need an excuse to get out for some summer walks.

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Swallow numbers appear down on last year but still enough to make a summer

Recent surveying which has filled my time with nature if not with blogging has been spectacular with a range of migrants and oddities on patches to add the unusual to the ever present beauty. The fields off Market Lane have been bursting with wildlife as well as the glorious blooms of rape flowers,

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Yellow flowers and blue skies perfect for surveying.

Bird populations seemed healthy with singing skylarks in every field along with linnets and yellowhammers. Wrens stayed hidden but bashed out their high octane trilling tunes accompanied by chaffinches, whitethroats, blackbirds and blackcaps. As is often the case the skies were also graced with flyover common terns and cormorant not exactly farmland birds but keeping the fish on their toes in the local ponds and reservoir. perhaps the most unlikely bird of the rape fields was a pair of ever present barnacle geese.

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Barnacle goose not the typical Norfolk bird of farm or field.

Recent WEBS counts have also revealed nice local highlights with breeding lapwings with chicks just hatched and oystercatchers, great crested grebes and plenty of blackheaded gulls to stop the Lesser black backed gulls from getting to comfortable. A pair of little ringed plover was also good to see but they appeared to be getting hassled by a trio of yobbish jackdaws which may prevent them nesting.

Favourite photo of the last few weeks is the following one which has taken much patience to get even this record shot of one of the local badger cubs. Shortly after they came within inches of me clearly oblivious of humans at this early stage in their life and didn’t see me as a threat just a curiosity.

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This posts video is of course also badger cub related as they make such great subjects clearly all full of energy and love of life.

Lesser spotted woodpecker and other patch highlights


With the fine weather lifting the soul it has been great to spend some time out on the local patches around the village. Even in the centre of the village if you spend some time looking up you are likely to see a soaring buzzard as they freewheel on unseen thermals and they should be joined soon by the village house martins and then the screaming swifts of Summer. Yesterday I saw several Norfolk swallows so look out for them too.

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Broad wings and tail of the latest village incomer. Buzzard.

Photo Credit: toothandclaw1 Flickr via Compfight cc

The bank holiday began and ended with a little brush cutting at our local county wildlife site Beckhithe Meadow. The precious wet meadow habitat has been slowly going under a cover of brambles so requires some trimming. A pair of roe deer might disagree as they appear to be using the growth to hide amongst and the local rabbits and foxes seem to have found there way through the long stuff. The only owl action there from the weekend was from calling tawny owls with no sign of Barn or little.

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Tawny owl, probably overseeing by brush cutting handy work.

The owls were accompanied by scolding wrens and the late singing of song thrush. Bats are coming out at dusk across the village but only a couple of distant pipistrelles could be detected at Beckhithe. The day time birds included all the recent regulars linnet flocks and singing yellowhammer, nuthatchblackcaps and some particularly noisy goldcrest. Chiffchaffs also called but no willow warblers  yet.

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Aptly named goldcrest, Britain’s smallest but not quietest bird.

A quick follow up visit today also recorded the first whitethroats and lesser whitethroat calling in the area. I also managed a quick follow up to this months WEBS count which was largely uneventful as I picked the day when there was a great deal of tree cutting and burning which will benefit the wildlife post event but made the counts a bit quiet. Fortunately for me just in front of my vantage point and oblivious to the disturbance was a green sandpiper not recorded here for a decade. Even more fortunate today were two of them in the same spot.

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Hastily taken patch record shot of Green sandpiper and his companion the giant Egyptian Goose.

The last super patch sighting of the day in a secret location not too far from the village was not by me but confirmation of what I thought I heard the other day in the diminutive drumming of a lesser spotted woodpecker which has now been heard and seen which again has not happened for several years. It was thought that they had all gone perhaps as a result of predation by their bigger cousin the Great spotted woodpecker, but it seems not. After watching a greater the other day raid a nuthatch hole it wouldn’t surprise me to see them taking the smaller lesser spotted from the nest.

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Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Small rare and perfectly formed

 

 

 

Photo Credit: andreasezelius Flickr via Compfight cc

Spring walks


I took several pleasant strolls out and about the village this week and may be joined by others soon as the walks section of the blog has made the big time getting to page 30 of the Wymondham magazine. Undoubtedly my favourite walk was out on the West Hethersett loop which still has the winter seed crop attracting flocks of scarce farmland birds. Over 100 linnets were singing and feeding and as I got closer I could pick out nearly 20 yellowhammers and plenty of chaffinches mixed in.

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Whats not to love about 20 yellowhammers on your doorstep?

Photo Credit: brianwaller703 Flickr via Compfight cc

The adjacent path runs along the hedgerows and the calls and song of greenfinch, dunnock, wren and robin were all evident. Some poorly controlled dogs also highlighted, in their trespassing, pheasants which shot out of the field. My end point was to be the local county wildlife site at Beckhithe Meadow and the hedgerows on route were home to foraging yellowhammer and reed buntings again staying local thanks to the seed crop.

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Male reed bunting being less than confiding

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Robin, rather more confiding

I took a couple of 9 year old assistants out with me on another nearby walk to deploy some camera traps on a possible otter or mink trail to see what we could capture. There were plenty of calling chiffchaffs as we headed down to the river and black headed gulls tracked us, suspicious of our motives. we got brief views of a buzzard as it called and flew off ahead of us and after we had walked through the oaks trees a few hundred meters we heard it call again but this time it didn’t sound right. It turned out the reason it didn’t sound right was because this time it was two red kites displaying and dancing low overhead causing some serious wow moments for myself and my companions. further on we checked out the local mallards and tufted ducks but some other local ducks have given mean excuse to bring out some favourite captures.

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Drake Mandarin currently appearing regularly at Thorpe Green

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Drake Gargany appeared this week at Whitlingham

On our way back home we travelled the A47 south of Norwich and saw not one but two badgers. Unfortunately both had been the victims of road accidents but I suppose this does highlight a good local population and they were joined in their roadside resting place by a polecat which whilst sad also suggests that they continue to do well in the area. Owing to some significant operator error this weeks video comes to you not of otters or mink but of a recent healthy if slightly damp badger. Check back soon to see if the first otter has been caught on camera.