A MEGA, a patch first and a LIFER.


Wow a busy few days around the village but I will start with the one I missed and only found out about today. In Birdwatching a Mega is a real rarity and if you are familiar with The Birds of Hethersett we are talking Golden Oriole. On Sunday morning Facebook posts appeared of a rare visitor to the UK let alone the Hethersett Recreation Ground. A white stork had arrived on the football pitches just in time for Sunday League kick off.

The Hethersett stork courtesy of Carol Gardiner and with small children in the back ground to add scale as this bird can stand at well over a meter tall.

Apparently this was not a vagrant European bird attracted by the local footballing talent but an escapee captured by the RSPCA and returned to Earsham in Suffolk from where he had drifted. Most sightings in Norfolk are of escapees from the likes of Thrigby Hall but they are none the less stunning birds.

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Slightly more photogenic bird which I had prepared earlier for just such a story.

The previous Friday in search of something just as rare and stunning I went out to nearby Marlingford for the monthly survey of waterbirds. It is now September so whilst the singing birds and locals are still quiet there is a real chance of something migrating through. I was hoping perhaps for a rare wading bird but after much scanning found the delightful yet common sandpiper picking at lakeside insects. The lake was quiet with the summer common terns now well on route back to Africa and other noisy visitors such as the oystercatcher also gone to coastal climes. There were good numbers of geese brown ducks and cormorants but my eye was drawn to a couple of monster gulls.

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Greater Blackbacked Gulls.

Photo Credit: JRochester Flickr via Compfight cc  These gulls dwarfed the lesser black backed gulls, herring gulls and black headed gulls and stood nearly shoulder to shoulder with the local canada geese. This was the first time I had seen them locally and they are often out at sea or on a mud flat and the true majesty of the birds is not always apparent. If seagulls really ate babies or small dogs it would be these that did it.

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Also present on my count the tiny cousin of the big boys a black-headed gull.

After the excitement of my local ‘Patch’ first and a rarity in itself I was to be given an exclusive guided tour of a site not too far from the village which was for me a life time first. Like most my experience of badgers is seeing them dead by the side of the road and on one very unfortunate occasion adding to the death toll as a large boar was chased  another in front of my own car to the significant detriment of the car and badger.  This was my first non vehicle related badger sighting:

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Now the more observant viewers will notice this is a tree not a badger

There are a number of key features that you are near a badger sett not least of which is their scratch tree which they use to sharpen their claws and this one shows scratches up to about 4 and a half feet (in old money). For a great site with details of badger setts and how to identify them and other interesting facts badger related  (click here) .Having never seen one before I was amazed at the size and structure.

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Big badger sized hole with claw marks around. They tend to be badger shaped and are clearly not any other animal when seen in the flesh.

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Big earth works. Unusually this sett is straight down rather than cut into a slope. It is six foot across and on the right is my camera bag which is where the following camera footage was taken from.

The first video is as expected a badger emerging from the main sett entrance. Badgers emerged either at the beginning or end of the day with little exception but they were not alone as the camera trap also caught grey squirrel and blackbird as well as the following passer by the entrance.

Having watched a few badger videos as they got used to the trail cam and its infra red light it was nice to capture the next video which hints at more to come.

So at least two badgers at this site and lots more likey, but I will have  to wait until late spring for some photographic opportunities as although badgers do not hibernate they are a late riser so only long summer days offer the best photo opportunities. Contact me via the website email if you are interested in in photographing these amazing creatures in the wild.

 

 

 

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Ladybelt Country Park


During nature wanderings in the last couple of weeks I finally discovered the hidden oasis that is Ladybelt, 21 hectares of reclaimed gravel and sand workings . The site is only a few miles from Hethersett at Ketteringham but has eluded me for years and looks from the road like a private drive to a gravel works which of course it still is in part.

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Site sign giving you all the facts and some suggested paths.

The carpark to the site is set in a predominantly pine wood and was ringing with the calls of coal tits despite it being the quiet part of the birding year. I imagine it would be very noisy in spring. The wood is full of bat and bird boxes and on my first evening visit it was not difficult to spot pipistrelle bats hunting through the trees.

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Coal tit one of the parks year round occupants.

One of the most obvious birds at this time of year as I entered the 14 hectares of open grassland was the green woodpeckers which clearly thrive and called and flew backwards and forwards with their characteristic bounding flight. In summer the signage promises singing skylarks but the only obvious singers were a few wren and robins and a delightful flock of linnet. Having checked the collective name for a group of linnets it is apparently a parcel of linnets so I will probably stick to a small flock.

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Linnet, one of a ‘parcel’

At the far end of the park is a wooded area which is home to an old but lovingly refurbished Ice house. Presumably this once had a job to do for a local manor but I could not find anything out about its history. The area around it was  full of blue and great tits and the occasional crow and woodpigeon. During the winter the cool dark recesses  of the ice house provide a hibernation spot for Daubenton’s bats.

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Ice House with keen 8 year old explorer in the way.

Working our way back across the meadows we were treated to a group of house martins  (collective noun a circlage) and swallows (collective noun a kettle) wheeling around the quarry buildings. They were joined by a couple of swifts which I thought would be the last I would see this year, however three more appeared over the village on the 24th which is very late but again a delight as a late summer spectacle. Also on the meadow was a ghost butterfly which delighted my young companion as it fluttered in front of us in the evening light.

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Meadow brown a washed out version of its self from earlier in the year. A ghost of summer past.

Our walk ended whilst still light with the call of tawny owls from the woods heralding the onset of Autumn and their breeding season. I had intended to bring the first ever aerial video of the park as a climax to this post however it turns out that flying a drone is not that easy and turning the video on even more tricky for the novice pilot so instead I leave you with photo of a suitably unimpressed tawny owl.

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Wise old tawny owl as taken by foolish drone operator.

 

Lost Summer love and Broadland highlights.


With the summer nights starting to feel vaguely summery again it is a bit of a shame that they are no longer filled with screaming swifts who have bred and gone. We are still left with a steady passage of house martins twittering over the village in a generally southern direction. Whilst out looking for a few last swallows I was lucky enough to catch a non avian Marlingford neighbour off guard and oblivious to my camera..

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Young dog fox in amongst the summer flowers

I was lucky enough to get some quality time last week in the Norfolk Broads again hoping for some late summer birds. A visit to RSPB Strumpshaw was a first call on ‘wild challenge friday’ with a range of entertainments for my 8 year old assistant and friends and some occasional birding for me. The birdlife was relatively quiet with a few late swallows stocking up on insect feed, some scrapping coots, a couple of common terns, some air drying cormorants and a grey heron who delighted my accomplices with his regular fish catching.

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Another Strumpshaw favourite Great crested grebe making the eclipse mallards look less than elegant

One of the activities on offer was the opening of the last nights moth traps again much to the delight of young and old with several good enough for a little wow factor.

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Worst ever photo of a spectacular Dark Arches.Very appropriately named moth.

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Better photo of a Lesser Swallow Prominant  very much more than the usual brown clothes eating kind of moth.

Next on the broadland trail was Ranworth Broad which was host to many of the same birds but with a few more tufted ducks and some more obvious swallows and common terns on offer. Once again the photographic highlight was non avian but caught my eye as a stunning and slightly threatening insect.

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Not a wasp and clearly lacking in the stinging department a grandly named Banded General.

After Ranworth’s delights we travelled onto How Hill which itself is home to a range of wonders both natural and man made. Myself and my 8 year old assistant opted, after much counting of small change to take the 50 minute electric boat tour and were not disappointed with our investment.  Our guide was botanically accomplished and showed us various treasures but none more exciting than milk parsley and it’s hungry cargo.

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Not many caterpillars more beautiful than this. The Swallowtail caterpillar young of largest and rarest butterfly in the UK.

Frankly after our swallowtail encounter anything else was an anti climax but our views from the private bird hide included a young marsh harrier a couple of buzzards many tufted ducks, mallard and gadwall and a range of fine cormorants and lots of coots.

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Another How Hill stunner a black tailed Skimmer typically  enjoying a sunny spot to recharge his dragonfly batteries.

Today’s video represents the quiet August summer days and was taken locally at a small pond and may be suitable to fall asleep to, with no birdsong just the sound of insects. Hopefully something more exciting next time. The first shot I got was of a dragonfly which had stopped to warm up on the lens! Bonus prize for anyone who can identify any of the insects. Slightly smaller bonus prize for some plant ID’s.

 

 

Auguzzzt


Yes it back, the month with too many ZZ’s and the birding is somewhat depressed locally like the grey weather. There is still some excitement for the likes of sea watchers and for those nearer the coast with passage migrants working their magic journeys and thrilling those who see them, but locally it has been very quiet. At this time of the year many birds are skulking and moulting post breeding.

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Long tailed-tit a bit skulky but at least about.

Garden highlights have included flocks of young birds including long-tailed tits, blue tits and great tits and every so often a chiffchaff moving in amongst them with safety in numbers from any predators. The only bird of prey to grace the garden was a pair of barn owls who appeared briefly although not with this years youngster who has not yet ventured too far from his home.

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Black winged stilt mother and young.

I had been hoping to add to the sites birdwatching walks page lately with the spotlight on Potter Heigham but have missed out on this hotspot which has come into focus with successful breeding Black winged stilts this year and a range of other recent goodies including Cattle egret and Baird’s Sandpiper either of which would look all the better on my year list.

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Family of Greylag geese taken not long ago.

I have managed to get my local WEBS surveys done with nothing exceptional except perhaps for a lack of greylag geese which are usually present in triple figures but disappeared completely last week. Let me know if you have seen a couple of hundred missing geese.. I managed to catch something on film whilst out surveying but once again it was nonavian.

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Female Southern Hawker id courtesy of James Emmerson.

Video of the week is of a recent robin who  regardless of his shabby moulting state stopped in front of camera for some indulgent sunbathing. This will be undertaken in part to rid himself of unwanted parasites and from the look on his face in part just to make the most of some elusive sunshine.

 

 

Evening encounters


Last week saw me take my nature time in the evenings after long working days and I started with another special visit to see the villages barn owl family. They had been out and about  the previous evening since 9.30pm but the only thing ariel at that time was the local pipistrelle population. Fortunately after half an hour they came out of their nest box and from the trees they had been hiding in and three youngsters flitted to and fro on silent wings but alas too late for my camera.

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Day time barn owl.

 Barn owl Credit: Ged neill Flickr via Compfight cc

I also lucked out on the local kingfisher  which had turned up earlier in the barn owl domain so the following evening I headed out to the West Hethersett loop in an attempt to catch up with my Hethersett bogey bird. The evening kicked off with more bats with up to half a dozen soprano Pipistrelles hunting around me so close you could hear their supersonic calls and the clatter of their wings.

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Blurry bat with non blurry but very invasive Himalayan Balsam (I believe)

The Great Melton reservoir was almost devoid of wildfowl or they were asleep in cover but a solitary moorhen called and a few wood pigeons clattered about. Eventually a shrill piping announced a late kingfisher who flashed past.

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Kingfisher Credit: Blake Wardle DPAGB Flickr via Compfight cc

Whilst the kingfisher was zooming out of sight I was drawn to another cry and high over head was a little egret picked out with the assistance of my binoculars. This elegant heron has waited several years to make it into the village list and saw me having to update the Birds of Hethersett. Also added was another village first this year, heard in the late spring on one night only near the village hall a nightingale. Here’s hoping both birds start to make it a bit more regularly.

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Elegant little egret

With its elegant plumage the Little Egret makes it on to the parish list.A further evening walk at nearby Marlingford added to my weeks treats with a common sandpiper and large counts of muntjac deer crashing through the undergrowth at every turn. I was also to get some more kingfisher action as a walk down to Hethersett Hall lake produced a single calling bird which briefly stopped and bobbed up and down on a low branch in front of me. Also just visible through the undergrowth a pair of little grebes put the seal on another crepuscular adventure. On arrival home I was met by one of many recently visiting hedgehogs.

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Hedgehog not as pleased to seem me as I was him.

Star of this week’s video is the hedgehog. Locally they seem to be getting an apparent high number of ticks and there is a lot of scratching for hedgehogs to do, often with comic consequences. Featuring a young and slightly embarrassed hedgehog.

Summer surprises.


Having recently invested in a new tyre for my bike I headed out around the West Hethersett loop followed by the around the Wong section of my local walks one evening last week to check out the wildlife and my fitness. I only managed to find one of my alleged 18 gears but that was enough to get round. I narrowly missed a couple of roe deer as I left the village and headed to the Great Melton Reservoir. Once there for a quick stop I got to watch a single fishing common tern and listened to the calling green woodpecker in the soft late evening light.

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Often heard and rarely seen the green woodpecker

Green woodpecker  Credit: kban2011 Flickr via Compfight cc

I saw little of interest until the approach to Wong Farm where I saw three brown hares which soon made themselves scarce. As I cycled through the farm itself I was surprised at the lack of swallows but clearly they go to bed before 9.30pm. As I progressed out of the farm I caught a brief view of a local fox who clearly doesn’t go to bed quite so early. The fox was followed by a muntjac deer to add to my mammal count which was concluded at home with a young hedgehog in my back garden.

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Roe deer one of many mammals from my cycling extravaganza.

Having seen the common tern I thought it would be a good week to check out my local WEBS patch and get a count done of the water birds. As I arrived there wasn’t the usual cacophony of bird song and although it was grey we are clearly slipping into that quite post breeding time when a lot of birds are moulting  and staying quiet. A slightly plaintiff Chiffchaff was the only real songster. There were plenty of butterflies and dragonflies filling the air so I set about trying to catch some on film. These are the best of them:

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There be dragons. A Southern Hawker rarely stopping except to finish off a snack.

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Delicate beauty of a green veined white supping on brambles.

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Not the best photo but included as I usually overlook this a gatekeeper.

The big butterfly count started a couple of days ago so why not check out the link (click Here) and find your own overlooked flappy friends. Butterflies were it turned out not alone in my afternoon stroll and I caught another record shot of one of many day flying moths.

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A shaded broad bar common but new to me (to be fair all moths are pretty much new to me)

I was shaken out of my insect world by a chorus of shrill cries overhead as a pair of recently fledged common terns pestered their parents for food. When I got down to the lake all the fluffy youngsters from just a couple of weeks ago were flying. It is difficult to comprehend how fast our spring birds produce grown families. On the lake Great crested grebes were sat brooding a second set of young and oystercatchers fed a downy black and white youngster.

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Striking adult Oystercatcher soon to be matched by their offspring.

Clearly although only mid July the summer is starting to shift through its gears and already some birds are starting to prepare for seasonal moves and migrations. My usual couple of pairs of lapwings were joined by a flock of 66 more and then whilst scanning a gravel bank I picked out a delightful pair of little ringed plovers and a dunlin. The dunlin pictured below is a bird that appears out of place away from the coast and this little wader is only the second record on my patch in the last ten years.

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Splendid addition to my weeks observations a scampering dunlin 

 Dunlin Credit: Ilya Povalyaev Flickr via Compfight cc

No guest video this week as the most prolific visitors to my cameras have been brown rats and not particularly photogenic. Fortunately I have the cameras back in my garden this week so perhaps something a bit more videogenic for next week. In the meantime dont forget the back catalogue is available HERE.

WEBS cam


As Wild June slipped away, it did so with a bang as the Wimbledon season brought out the British thunderstorms and the hopes and dreams of my gutter nesting collared doves were swept away despite a couple of days valiantly incubating their eggs in a small river.

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Springwatch style action is not over as a goldfinch has nested by my backdoor. Hopefully giving  opportunities to get decent pictures of the new family

Just before the rains really came down I drifted West of the village to my WEBS site to check on the progress of the common tern colony.  The walk down to the lake was full of bird and insect life albeit that as the nesting season is in full swing and the birds have quietened down. Lesser whitethroats and chiffchaffs and a couple of garden warblers were typically still singing. There were butterflies and dragonflies blowing through but only the couple below stopped for a photo.

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Small Tortoiseshells, presumably a pair but I await any experts who can confirm.

When I finally reached my vantage point over the tern colony the sunshine was disappearing fast. Since my last visit the chicks had hatched and the first pair of youngsters were slightly fluffy versions of their parents with others ranging in various fluff ball sizes. In total there were 9 youngsters with seven adults clearly brooding others and a few black-headed gulls with young to keep them company.

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Black-headed gulls the noisy neighbours.

Whilst I was watching the rain came down and the fluffy chicks all attempted to hide under each other whilst the grown ups stuck their heads up in what I assumed was the most comfortable pose for heavy rain. I spent some time waiting for the rain to stop and counted 220 greylag geese and smaller numbers of Egyptian and canada geese as well as the other wildfowl, mallards, tufted duck, mute swans, coots  and  great crested grebes along with 4 little egrets and a lone cormorant.

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Lone Cormorant.

As I fled the rain I wished goodbye to my new trail cam left strapped to a tree in between the lake and the river. I returned a few days later to see what had been going on in my absence. The following videos are the highlights and a glimpse into the wild world which would otherwise be unseen. My new Trail cam is the Xikezan Wildlife camera and coming in at below £60 is relatively successful for the price although it is suited to monitoring trails at a bit of a distance and struggles with close ups.

The first video is of some of the locals with their creche. These Canada Geese are clearly spooked by something before calm is maintained. It wasn’t long before we find out what and keep watching this one as there is a very fortunate pheasant who steals the later part of the video after Cunning Mr fox’s exit stage right with a young Canada gosling.

The next video is the most prolific locals, in this case a couple caught at night. These muntjac deer clearly enjoy the fresh grass post rainfall. The trailcam appears very poor in terms of audio but you can pick up the background passing cars.

The muntjacs don’t get it all their own way however and as well as foxes they also have to dodge protective Roe Deer Mothers who sees them off in the next clip.

And if you like myself was wondering what was going on to make mum so protective the next video will reveal all.

On my return trip to collect the camera I did a quick head count and the terns now had 10 obvious chicks and the parents were coming in to feed them. I struggled with identifying their meals until a parent bird arrived with a large goldfish which was eaten hungrily, so watch out pond owners. I have deployed the camera again this week hoping to catch otters, kingfishers and little egrets but was disappointed there was nothing about when I set it up.  ut on my return drive home I passed Marlingford Mill and myself and my eight year old assistant caught sight of three young otters scuttling across the road. Magic.