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.


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.


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.


A couple of Autumn lifers

Ordinarily my posts of late have ended with a video offering, from occasionally well placed, trail-camera’s. This weekend saw something which credited the video section moving up the post. After finishing recent deployments at a nearby badger sett I put the camera back in some oak woodland near my Marlingford WEBS site.

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First contact with a mystery animal.

I never quite know what I am going to get on camera but worked my way through the first 86 videos of 249 seeing the delightful and expected, Roe Deer, Muntjac deer, Grey Squirrel, wood mouse, Pheasant, Jay, song thrush and blackbirds When I stumbled on something unexpected and furry. The first video showed little apart from a lot of fur and the above still shot was the best clue as to what I had captured. I set about looking for another video capture of the mystery animal.

In this second video the animal runs through giving a quick glance at what I now believe to be a polecat. Only a hundred years ago this wild ferret had been eliminated from england by hunting and trapping and was a welsh and far Northern Scottish speciality. Just over a year ago it had spread back across the UK arriving in Norfolk with odd sightings suggesting it is back to stay since. More on info on polecats available on the following link (click here)


Somewhat more photogenic version of my video surprise

Polecat Credit: Peter Markwick Flickr via Compfight cc

After the excitement of a first near the village the next weekend trip was planned to take in another first, a well reported cattle egret at Stiffkey on the coast. On route myself and my 8 year old assistant took in breakfast at Pensthorpe and stopped to photograph some of the locals. We were greeted by bugling cranes and seeping redwings. The weather bounced from bright sunshine to rain showers giving opportunity to sit in some of the hides and catch up with some of the commoner birds.


First and commonest of a trio of related acrobats. Blue tit.


Bigger and bolder Great Tit


Last and least common but very feisty Marsh tit

The last of these the marsh tit has not been seen this year in the village but the next bird which ate from my hand is a much more common and gave the opportunity to catch a close up.


Black-headed gull pondering 

Back on the road we headed out to stiffkey and the every present egret was exactly where it should be following cattle. Unfortunately this was to be a birding by car success as there was no where safe for me to stop. The next picture of the less rare every year cattle egret is therefore one from the archives.


Next along the coast (as we were there already) was a drive past of Cley taking in flocks of russian immigrants in the form of dark bellied brent geese but no sign of the rarer black Brant. The next avian highlight was a buzzard hovering at Kelling Heath with the wind so strong it just held itself effortlessly until we had passed along and out of sight. The wind was whipping up the waves at Cromer our next destination.


Surfs up at Cromer pier

There were plenty of herring gulls but no rarer caspian gull to be seen and scrutiny of the birds on the foreshore produced a delightful flock of turnstones but no purple sandpiper. The mixed weather produced a range of rainbows throughout the day but only one had an 8 year old assistant at its end.


Pot of Gold ?

Having started the post with the video I am left to end it with a sunbathing beauty from the day not from the beach but from Pensthorpe both enjoying the sun but also ridding themselves of the odd parasite.


Sunbathing Robin.

Autumn Highlights to date.

With tropical hurricane Ophelia pushing up warm fine weather every spare moment has been spent pretending it’s summer whilst watching the distinctly autumnal fare over the last few days. One of my personal highlights was the first of the winter thrushes appearing over the village. Redwings with their ‘seep seep’ calls were the first ones flying low over the village centre late last week looking a bit tired after their trip over the North Sea from summer breeding in Northern Europe and Russia. This year they turned up on exactly the same as last year.


Redwings now spreading out locally and throughout the county

Photo Credit: Daniel.Pettersson Flickr via Compfight cc

Having seen the Autumn migrants over the village it seemed like a good time to check out my local WEBS site at Marlingford and see what else had flown in. My count soon included the first of the seasons whistling ducks the wigeon and also a number of teal and a small flock of gadwall both also increased in numbers this month. Other birds in good numbers were the local fish catching cormorant population with 30 birds and left over from last month a pair of greater black-backed gulls.


Iridescent Cormorant preparing for take off and doubtless some fishing.

I got to work on the slightly arduous task of counting the hundreds of geese and as ever at this time of year realised that the Canada geese and the greylags have not been entirely faithful to their own species. One of this years progeny was in company with mum who was a canada goose but I am not entirely clear on dad but would welcome opinions particularly where those spectacular yellow legs come from.


Standard Canada goose left and centre

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Young hybrid (centre) with his mixed family?

As well as checking out migrants locally I was lured to the East coast to see what might have been blown in on the local hurricanes. First off was a trip to Caister and Hemsby which allowed me to catch up with most of the local gull species as well as some fishing gannets which are always impressive if a little distant in the ‘summer’ heat haze.


Acrobatic Gannet proving you don’t have to be rare to be special.

Photo Credit: normanwest4tography Flickr via Compfight cc

Having taken in the beach and the nearby amusements to ensure the total eight year old accomplice experience I decided that my next port of call would wait until I was alone to check it out. Next on the seasonal East coast hotlist was the less obvious hotspot Great Yarmouth cemetery. The cemetery whilst not an obvious birdwatching mecca to many is to migrant birds attracting a surprising number of rarities. Whilst tiptoeing between the gravestones I had the good fortune to bump into local aficionado @wryneck and he quickly put me onto a flock of great tits, blue tits, long tailed-tits and goldcrests which were in company with a yellow browed warbler which although calling didn’t show itself. Other graveside highlights which were easier to photograph were as follows.


Gravestone topping young herring gull which had it been named in the current Great Yarmouth, post herring fleet demise, might have been the fast-food gull.


Red Admiral enjoying the weather and the late blooming ivy flowers along with a host of other insects


Local monument in amongst the birds and notable for its damage inflicted on it by the Luftwaffe whilst carrying out one of their many wartime attacks on the port.


More local history adjacent to the graveyard is this cafe not famous for its tea and scones bu for being the birthplace of Anna Sewell


Close up in case it was required.

Having drifted away from the avian may I further present one of Strumpshaws finest from my journey home albeit that he may not make it past the shooting season…


Cock Pheasant

 Lastly this post is thevideo highlight which marks the end of my Badger Sett survey.

Burlingham and Great Yarmouth by the Med. A traveller’s tale.

Once again myself and my 8 year old assistant have struggled to get out and fit in any birding in our hectic lives. This weekend having achieved little recently we set out for East Norfolk. Great Yarmouth was our most Easterly destination but on route we stopped off at the lesser known walking gem that is Burlingham woodland walks

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Well signposted, this one laying out all the walking locally is at St Andrews Church Burlingham.

The Burlingham woodland trails offer the opportunity to walk miles of woodland and arable tracks and check out the migrant birdlife and the locals. No surprises with our early spots which in the dense mixed woods were often ‘hears’ rather than spots.  First through the woods with us was a mixed flock of long-tailed tits with blue tits and great tits for company. High in some of the fir trees was the higher pitched calls of goldcrest along with some scolding wrens. The only birds that were happy to put in the odd appearance, and there were lots of them singing, were the robins.


Already breaking out the Festive tunes the robin.

The walking was not without a variety of non avian distractions as the weaving path often hosts sculptures as well as brass rubbing so there is always something to distract young accomplices although a pair of calling buzzards was the ultimate distraction for mine.

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Op Art distraction amongst the trees.

Nature was also vying for attention with this being the best time of year for fungi there were many on offer and plenty of foraging going on for edible ones although not by me as I work on the safe basis that none are edible unless pre packed.

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Definitely not for human consumption a fly agaric hiding amongst the ivy.

In the end the birdwatching and listening was a little slow compared with the other distractions. The surrounding pastures gave up jackdaws, rooks and pheasant. and overhead flew charms of goldfinches but no migrant rarities. So it was off to Yarmouth via the vast expanse of acle marshes which held a number of little egret and a slightly out of place cormorant sitting on a lamppost on route much to the apparent concern of the local starlings.

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One of the aforementioned locals showing off his starling breeding finery.

On the seafront at Great Yarmouth we were treated to the usual locals along with the starlings and pigeons were herring gulls and black-headed gulls and our target species the mediterranean gulls with a bout 15 floating about the beach between the piers. Whilst standing outside one of the pinkest most Vegas style amusement arcades we were treated to a slightly surreal overflying dunlin flock. Surrounded by wildlife rich countryside Yarmouth’s seafront offers a significant patch list as well as chips and donuts.

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Med Gull catching some air in between catching some chips.

Our return trip to the village allowed glimpses of thousands of birds spread across Breydon water and then a spectacular wedge of two hundred pink-footed geese snaked across our route a seasonal reminder that the winter migrants are arriving in numbers. Final photo of the day is another from Burlingham and appeared in amongst the wildness and ready for the end of the month.

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Probably not naturally occurring.

Not one but two videos this post, the first being a sound bite of Autumn with a roosting pheasant acting as soundtrack to the passing Muntjac.

The next video is something ready for Halloween and a warning to those who go out in the woods after dark. Apparently badgers are cautious when they smell the scent of human but clearly not on their camera equipment.


Autumn highlights

Technically we are a couple of days into Autumn but with a lack of recent opportunities to get out in the natural world I took the most of a brief opportunity today to get some late summer sunshine and check out the wildlife on a short stroll down Kissing Alley. Initially it was all quiet with just the gentle buzz of insects making the most of the warm weather. The first obvious birds were a pair of kissing nuthatches but they were somewhat tricky to get a photo of as they chased each other around the huge oak trees.

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Fairly typical view of an elusive upside down nuthatch

The nuthatches and myself were soon surrounded by a host of long-tailed tits, great tits and blue tits. Again all the birds whilst calling loudly did their best to remain elusive whilst my camera clicked away, mostly at empty branches.


Long tailed tit typically hiding behind foliage.

Somewhere out of sight in amongst this host of birds called a chiffchaff. I was rather hoping that my calling leaf warbler of the day might have been a yellow browed warbler. This Siberian migrator arrives at this time of year with an estimated 1000 reaching the UK and has been seen recently in Norwich and appears to be annually close to getting into the Birds of Hethersett list. You are more likely to hear them than see them and the call is available (here).


Coming soon to the Birds of Hethersett Yellow browed Warbler

Photo Credit: Mark Walpole Flickr via Compfight cc

My walk finished with the sounds of scolding rooks and jackdaws chasing off the local buzzard to the background vocals of wren and pheasant. No sign yet of other Autumn visitors but the first wigeon and fieldfare have hit the coast line and last week an enigmatic flock of pink-footed geese were seen over Norwich at Hellesdon.

Video of the week is of visiting blackbirds taken last winter but show as several strange looking foreigners have been seen this week with white heads and as the birds in the video show some of our winter birds from abroad do come in a range of slightly unusual colours


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.


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.




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.


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.


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.


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.


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.