Two rights and a Wong


This week has been a slow one for me as my seven year old assistant suffered from a bout of tonsillitis and I was left to care for her. The time was not wasted  as the weather occasionally allowed some garden convalescence and having missed out on this years big garden bird watch  we set about adding some birds to the garden lists. Perhaps our favourite and regular after a number of mild winters was the UK’s smallest bird and whilst it is frustratingly fast moving I did at least manage to get a couple of shots worth showing.

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Goldcrest the smallest and fastest moving bird in the garden looking for its next meal

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Meal caught alas it only feeds in the trees not on my young vegetables which bear the ravages of early caterpillars

There are a variety of interesting passage birds moving through the county at the moment but trips to see them have been curtailed due to my nursing responsibilities so instead I have travelled locally and checked out the incoming Summer visitors. In Admirals way the chattering swooping housemartins are back in force and no sign  of any locals putting up defences to prevent them nesting which is great to see and a far cry from my previous post available here . In an effort to check out some others I travelled to an over looked part of the parish Wong Farm . The evening was starting to draw in but it was still warm enough for an early skylark serenade.

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Feeding skylark much easier than capturing the singing version.

I had been drawn to the route after seeing Buzzards chasing crows over the same area earlier in the day but none were  present for my visit. The sun was also still strong enough to bring out singing chaffinch, yellow hammer and chiffchaff but none were particularly visible although I did catch up with one later.

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Late to bed yellowhammer

I set off towards the farm itself and was overflown by late night lesser black-backed gulls heading for their roosts. The evening crew had started to settle in and were singing including wren, song thrush and blackbird. As I travelled along the field edges I was treated to a number of brown hares scampering to cover which was good to see although none hung around for a photo. When I got to Wong Farm there were plenty of swallows darting about and I am fairly sure I witnessed at least one couple ariel mating but they were so fast this is the best photo I managed to get.

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Evening barn swallow with tail streamers not yet damaged through incubation.

Having secured good counts of swallows and housemartins locally I headed back to home but was treated to  a final view of another local who’s numbers are well within the green zone and arguably not a good thing environmentally.

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‘My what big ears you have got.’ Evening Muntjac deer 

And now  the regular video is direct from Disney’s Bambi with her father entering right of stage and looking a little camera and just generally wary.

The background song is from Great tits, Robin and blackbirds. Last photo of the day goes to my favourite local charity Finnbarr’s force and their latest adventure helping the families of those affected by childhood cancers. May the force be with you..

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The birds and the bees.


The first village swifts arrived in the village yesterday with seven birds soaring and occasionally screaming in a seemingly  endless loop over the village Hall. Their arrival was replicated on my twitter feed with sightings across the UK. This time of year sees a huge influx of birds including the occasionally huge bird with a giant white-tailed sea eagle dropping in at near by Buckenham marshes midweek.

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Swift back over the village this week

Photo Credit: Rodrigo Conte Flickr via Compfight cc

After recent success in getting the most migration magic out of the local area I headed down to Marlingford to check out my WEBS site. The scrub was full of song from locals and summer visitors including singing Robins, linnets, chiffchaff, willow warbler, lesser whitethroat, blackcap  and a first of the year with the delicate sound of a garden warbler who popped out to show himself but too briefly for a photo opportunity.

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Robin. As per last week  a photogenic songster not one of his elusive cousins

The next part of my walk to get to migrant central the lakes took me through a small patch of oak woodland which was surprisingly bird free and then I saw something which my brain could work out at first. I saw a huge pine cone hanging from a low oak branch about 10 foot up in the air. As my brain scrabbled to process what it was looking at it dawned on me what it was. Fortunately I had my 300mm lens on the camera as this wasn’t something I wanted to get too close to.

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Shimmering mass of chilled wild bees (not a big pine cone)

Having steered a wide birth round the slowly pulsating mass of bees out looking for a new home I headed down to the waterside. Last weeks swallows and house-martins had gone but there were travelling visitors a plenty in amongst the local ducks, geese and waterbirds. There were several little ringed plovers, a common sandpiper a pair of oyster catchers and a pair of lapwing and then I spotted another wader but an unexpected one. Picking insects off a low gravel island was a grey plover in full breeding plumage a spectacular little fellow clearly designed by someone with exquisite taste and a first for the site in over a decade of observations.

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Grey plover a striking bird this one not mine (which was of course better looking but too far away for a decent photo).

 Photo Credit: Aravind Venkatraman Flickr via Compfight cc

My webs survey was not the only one with surprises this week I also carried out a Breeding Bird survey at nearby Wicklewood which also had a few surprises in store. The first was the thriving colony of house sparrows which did their best to oblige for a quick photo.

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Male house sparrow can be a bit brown to get a capture which shows them off but I am happy I nailed this one.

The sparrows are well fed by kind locals and were accompanied by a host of other birds including blackbirds, starlings, collared doves, a chaffinch and some portly wood pigeons. Running about amongst them were some I guess less welcome guests.

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Brown rat. This well fed one was the size of a small car (or similar)

Leaving the rats and civilization behind I headed towards the arable parts of my survey area and was treated to the rich sound of displaying skylarks and scared a couple of red legged partridges. The partridges flew off low and next to a sign which suggested I wasn’t welcome I noticed something sitting on top , like an angry resident.

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No unauthorised personnel but Little owls welcome.

I wound my way down country lanes to the continuing sound of skylarks but the breeze had started to pick up and may have kept the rest of the residents quiet, certainly yellowhammers were missing in numbers and the only warbler to call was a chiffchaff until I reached the end of my last section which ends at Wicklewood mere  a swampy area of land which produced a variety of birds including sedge warbler and a piping call from overhead that belonged to an oystercatcher which was another new bird and one which is becoming regular over the village and in areas which I have not seen them before.

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Snatched shot of a flyover Oystercatcher

Having completed my two surveys and shared special moments with nature whilst carrying out ‘citizen science’ I had a look at the latest camera captures which had been taken by a nearby pond. The camera had caught very little before a passing critter had knocked it over probably a rabbit. Below is the surviving video which captures the dawn chorus nicely if little else

In approximate order after the take off of a grey Heron; background singing throughout Blackbird, interrupted by the staccato call of a lesser whitethroat,  then linnet singing, pheasant, and chiffchaff. I think that’s it but please comment if you pick out any others.

The keen eyed amongst you will have picked out the creature moving in the video just to the left of the water and I think it is probably a mallard so leave you with the next generation of this local which is popping up all over the place.

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Mallard chick.

Warblers and other Highlights


Spring has well and truly sprung and the last of the winter birds disappeared with the last post , however the weather has been a bit chilly for those early migrants which have appeared including a couple of nights of frost and some light snow flurries. I anticipate that the chiffchaffs and blackcaps that have been singing around the village might be missing more tropical climes.

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Male blackcap  singing near you in the day time and very fluffed up at night time

Credit: merseymouse Flickr via Compfight cc

My WEBS survey in nearby Marlingford was a little late this month delayed by weather and stuff, so I took the opportunity to see what had arrived on the spring winds today and set out despite some early rain. The first bird I came across was a favourite of mine but a bit bedraggled after another heavy wintry shower.

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Red legged or French partridge looking a bit sad.

The rain soon cleared and despite the poor weather the chiffchaffs started singing accompanied by some linnets and a robin. I walked down an alleyway of young hawthornes and was surprised by a little green rocket that shot up in front of me laughing. The green woodpeckers were to continue to follow me throughout the afternoon. The warblers kept singing if sometimes a little muted and I soon added willow warbler a distant sedge warbler and then the distinctive call of the first lesser whitethroat of the year.

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A robin far more photogenic than the immigrant warblers.

After finding a spot near a pond to set up my camera trap ready for the long weekend I flushed some more partridge and a grey heron. I tend to set the trap on a clear animal path but set it this time on a small pond so it will be interesting to see what does or doesn’t turn up. On its last outing I got the following shots of a Muntjac stag which has tended only to show in the evenings but this one was obviously too hungry to wait until nightfall.

My next stop was the mere and having listened to canada geese, black headed gulls and oystercatchers on the approach through the oak woods I was anticipating a crowd as I had seen last month. All my favourites were there and more advanced in their breeding cycles there were downy young mallards and greylag goslings and Great crested grebes and an oystercatcher on their nests.

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Greylag gosling

The spring babies and nesting birds were not the highlight for me  though that was the hordes of hirundines with over a hundred house martins and about thirty swallows hawking for flies suggesting more than enough to make a summer. after an age of watching these masters of the sky swirling and looping I settled down to some serious scanning of the mere edges and islands to check for other residents and passers by. The next pleasant sighting was what is probably a passer through rather than a settler a little ringed plover. This delicate visitor from Eastern Europe has spread through south east Britain thanks to mans help in the form of gravel works.

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Little ringed plover 

My new sightings of the year were not over as I scanned the gulls counting up the Black headed ones and the lesser black backed gulls I came across a pair of common terns. These noisy birds have spent the winter in Africa and will breed locally and fish off the Great Melton Reservoir as well as other big local lakes and other open water.

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Common Tern the ‘sea swallow’ 

Photo Credit: kryztophe Flickr via Compfight cc

After my wide variety of warblers and spring visitors I headed back home to put my feet up but having failed to see any of the top predators on my trip I was to be treated to a young male kestrel hunting and hovering above me as I returned to my car a perfect end to a spring bird fest.

Happy Easter


The last couple of weeks has shot by with a variety of highlights and as is often the case I started the Holiday period with a trip to local wildlife hotspot Pensthorpe. The reserve sits on the Wensum valley and is a great barometer for the season and often highlights what can be seen turning up locally as well as some more exotic residents. The first few birds were expected with an assortment of wildfowl and an obliging jackdaw alongside sparrows, chaffinches, pied wagtails etc.

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My favourite bird the jackdaw currently filling village chimney pots with sticks and moss like its going out of fashion.

Out in the reserve spring was very much on show with singing chiffchaff and a half hearted willow warbler and cettis warbler showing off their vocal skills. Last week also saw my first willow warbler locally at Marlingford which whilst not as obliging as the jackdaw at least stayed still long enough for a record shot.

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First Willow warbler of the year and hopefully at least one will turn up in Hethersett after last years poor showing.

Also on the reserve were my first baby birds of the year with their proud mum. Presumably there will also be some of these locally although I have not seen them yet.

DSC_0010Mother Mallard presumably imparting some advice to some of her very new brood.

Pensthorpe has been in lockdown recently with control measures to prevent bird flu but things are just getting back to normal and a couple of flyovers by a white stork were proof of this and suitably spectacular. Free flying white storks in Norfolk both here and Thrigby tend to confuse and occasionally irritate the hardened birdwatcher as to their origins  but when observed just for the spectacle they offer nothing but pleasure.

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Elegant white stork sitting on a rudimentary nest on top of a Pensthorpe slide presumably tired from delivering baby elephants with long ears and ducklings and such like.

Also last week I dipped into RSPB Strumpshaw to ensure my 7 year old assistant got her fill of the special laid on Easter Nature trail and quiz which as usual delighted and did not disappoint. The trip was noteable again for a spring first a house martin one of many no doubt heading for the county and it danced around a male marsh harrier almost for sport. The reserve was alive with the sound of blackcaps and chiffchaffs singing in the spring despite the variable weather.

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Guest photo of the day courtesy of S Parkin a Marsh harrier hawking the Strumpshaw reed beds.

Today I returned to strumpshaw and the number of warblers and intensity in song was increasing including the first reed warbler of the year and some uber cute greylag goslings. Alas no photo of the fluffy yellow chaps but instead my favourite trail cam video of the year just waiting to go viral and a clear sign that cold of winter is behind us.

And tonight just as I was thinking the winter had passed by I was out visiting the local shop when a flock of whistling ducks flew through the velvet night sky over head towards their summer quarters in Northern Europe. I could only identify the  by their call but there is something magical in witnessing this migration flight of these natural wonders even if it is only their out of place calls..

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 Drake wigeon. See you next winter.

Early Spring highlights


There have been a number of highlights over the last couple of weeks in the village and locally. I and my seven year old assistant were especially pleased with a fine pair of bullfinches on our feeders for the first time in a number of years. My camera was out of play at the time but that extra strong pink of the male bird leaves an image burnt into your memory without need for a camera. I set out down the church farm and Hethersett Hall loop with camera in hand. Early sightings included a pair of displaying buzzards by the Hall and the usual serenade of chaffinches great and blue tits and the now regular chiffchaff.

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Chiffchaff always tricky to get a photo of this leaf warbler that spends most of his time high up and as soon as those leaves are out out of sight.

Next I took a look at the Hall lake on the meadow alongside were jackdaw, rook and a pair of greylag geese and on the lake itself a little grebe and moorhen as well as a pair of coot. This time of year is again the best time along with the winter months to get any real view of the lake from the public highway along kissing alley before the foliage blocks the best views. Tucked in the North side of the lake were two drake teal a very pleasant surprise as there are no current records for this pretty little duck locally.

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Drake teal a smart new addition to the ‘Birds of Hethersett’

I believe the local populations of this small duck are increasing so hopefully these won’t be the last sightings, certainly the national figures show an increase in sightings this year over previous years. With the warm weather raising temperatures there was quite a lot of showing off by the resident mallards which gave an opportunity for  a slightly different photo angle and showed of the brightly coloured speculum feathers which are often hidden.

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Drake mallard looking flash

After the excitement of the hall I wandered back through the centre of the village to see if I could find the now regular tree sparrow. It wasn’t present but had been seen earlier and has been collecting nesting material so with no other tree sparrows about we may see some interesting hybrid tree x house sparrows later in the year.

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Obliging male house sparrow. The bigger the black bib at the front the higher ranking the bird so this handsome fellow is I am afraid fairly low down the pecking order.

The Spring has brought out more than the birds locally so here are a couple of other local highlights to look out for:

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Cowslips now appearing all over the place. Wikipedia quotes the leaves as edible but goes on to list a number of possible unpleasant effects they can have so probably best viewed only.

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Comma Butterfly one of a number of species out and about locally now the weather is warm

Lastly for this week the video highlight which was taken at nearby Marlingford. It had been a quiet set of camera shots on a new site with the camera set on a four foot fence. Initially I thought it was misty but it quickly turned out to be the heavy breathing of a Roe deer who then gets very athletic.

 

 

Continue reading “Early Spring highlights”

Migrant time and a rare treat.


Spring has been sweeping in with some ferocity over the last week or so and a batch of singing chiffchaffs at Marlingford last week sent me out around the village to see if they had arrived more locally. They are a few days ahead of last year and when I checked Wild about Hethersett they are a couple of weeks earlier than they were just a few years ago probably a sign of gradual global warming. They will be followed hopefully by their cousins and doppelgangers the willow warblers and as the following video highlights only the call will give them away to most of us.

 

I started with a count of the Great Melton heronry which was busy with at least a couple of nests with young calling and as I counted the parents did loops checking me out. As the quickly snatched shot below shows they are showing brooding patches on their bellies in flight that they will be using to keep young chicks warm and dry.

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Grey Heron always an impressive bird in flight

Whilst counting herons the local chiffchaffs soon started singing in the afternoon sun despite the chilling breeze. Having caught up with the locals I headed for my nearby WEBS site at Marlingford to see how the Spring was manifesting itself. The recent temperate days had encouraged the non native daffodils into full bloom, as they have around the village, and there was the occasional buzz of grateful bumblebees. The nearby trees were full of singing robins, great tits, chaffinch and they were accompanied by crowing pheasants and calling jackdaws and rooks.

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Sunshine and daffodils. What’s not to love?

Having drunk in the sights,  sounds  and smells of daffodil strewn borders I carried on towards my main goal the local lakes and it was good to see as well as the local birds the rabbit population is starting to bounce back from recent, disease caused, decimation.Whilst there were blackbirds and appropriately singing song thrush there was no sign of the winter thrushes that have kept them company recently. As I moved through the oak woodland I could hear the sounds of breeding Canada geese and Oyster catchers through the still skeletal trees.

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Rarely quiet, the male Oystercatcher in Spring

Once I got to the lake the change in season since my last visit was obvious with the disappearance of my whistling companions the wigeon and reduced numbers of teal, tufted duck and coots. The ever present greylag and Egyptian geese were very obviously moving Noah style two by two paired for the spring and some were starting to settle on nesting sites. I had hoped to catch up with some passage waders perhaps a passing green sandpiper as recently heard passing overhead at the nearby UEA on night time migration but none were present. Instead I scanned the reed edges and standing next to the resident grey heron was a great white cousin.

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Great white heron record shot from nearly 1/4 mile away through an old Iphone 4

The great white heron is still a relative rarity locally and usually a Winter only visitor so it will be interesting to see if he sticks around on a more permanent basis. What is not a local rarity were the great crested grebes that adorned the lake. Always nice to see but I counted three not two as usual and wondered if that might be a crowd. I was treated to some courtship display between a male and female and as I was enjoying the usual ballet the third bird, clearly a male strayed too close. The ballet quickly turned into a life and death struggle as the dominant male tried to drown his opponent. I and the female watched as the weaker male was held underwater until it looked as if he was dead. Fortunately grebes spend most of their lives fishing underwater and the weaker male made it away with his life but I guess he won’t be around for my next visit.

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Great crested grebe in typical pre fight club pose 

Great crested Grebe Credit: Hugobian Flickr via Compfight cc.  After the drama I thought it might be time to lower my heartbeat and amble back through the woods. I was treated to calling nuthatch and then pairs of calling long-tailed tits, great tits and marsh tits. A tree creeper scurried about under still sunlit branches and a male linnet serenaded me as I completed my trek laying out the trailcam for collection next week. I leave you with a couple of mammals caught on camera from the last deployment withe the two videos giving some idea of scale of the two herbivores.

The last stag clearly sporting some unusual headwear

 

Last chance at Lynford


With Winter slipping away I had a chance to grab a quick hour at the breckland birding hotspot that is Lynford Arboretum. In recent weeks one of the star birds the Hawfinch has been slipping away into the nearby conifer forests to think about setting up breeding territories but with up to twenty birds (perhaps some generous counting) recently it was still worth a look.

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Lynford Hall viewed from the paddocks

The day had started with torrential rain so a clear and fine afternoon was an unexpected bonus which I hoped would bring out the birds in force. Early calling birds included marsh tit, great tit, long-tailed tit, blue tit  and wren with a fine high pitched whirl of goldcrest calling high above. Pushed for time I didn’t hunt out the other local speciality of firecrest but doubtless they were about. The first birds to show well were brambling and a small flock were feeding on the ground by some large feeders very colourful but to far away for all but the longest of lenses to capture.

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Blue tit showing of his trendy spring time haircut. It was a fairly dull day so he has been warmed up a little using my favourite free post photo editing software Picasa 3

I walked down to the little stone bridge by the Halls Lake next and picked off some more locals in the form of blackbird, dunnock, woodpigeon and plentiful Jackdaws which haunt the Hall all year round with their evocative calls. At the bridge there was still some traces of bird food left out by visitors which attracted in some chaffinches.

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Male chaffinch this time with the benefit of a crop but no other tweaking.

Soon after I had arrived I was joined by a couple who had brought numerous healthy treats for the local birds and as they scattered them about and filled up the feeders the place came alive with birds like a scene out of snow white. First to touch down were a pair of long tailed tits.

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Pair of long tailed tits again without the benefit of anything other than some serious cropping.

Next to appear:

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Seeds fly as an obliging Nuthatch dropped in and fed.

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And again the nuthatch this time with colours slightly warmed up to show off his true beauty.

Not all the birds hung around for a photo opportunity coal tits performed their standard hit and run and a male reed bunting did similar. Watching all of this and me was almost unnoticed and unphotographed a fine female crossbill which was watching from a low branch of an alder  a long way from my usual view  of these birds, high up in a conifer tree.

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Hanging around longer than the crossbill a male siskin fed on Alder cones.

The nearby paddocks lured me away from my feeding friends and thanks to some fellow birders I got a quick view of a Hawfinch in the tops of their favourite Hornbeams. Whilst the views were a bit limited as the bird in question was either sleepy or sulking it was still a pleasure to see accompanied by more siskins and a redwing and a jay. I had unfortunately run out of time and only scratched the surface of what Lynford has to offer  so walked back to the bridge to the sound of noisy canada geese and a calling little grebe with a quick photo opportunity of another local.

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Male Great Tit filling up on free food.

Locally in the last week the village has seen repeat visits from the almost famous Hethersett tree sparrow and some fly over cormorants a less than common sight. I leave the post with the now regular, and this week very seasonal but slightly  unexpected video of some furry friends from my WEBS site at nearby Marlingford.