Winter is starting to slip away and the natural world is changing around the village to the natural rhythm of the seasons with the lighter mornings come the increased volume of birdsong and in the woods the hint of a colour other than grey or brown can at last be seen along with some bees to go with it.
Local birding highlights still come thick and fast with continued linnet and chaffinch flocks in the local fields and the regular calls of song thrush and goldcrest in amongst the early attempts at a dawn chorus. I have made a couple of WEBS visits this week to see if I could catch some end of winter specials with limited success. My first site at Algarsthorpe got a brief drive past and was proving to be a spectacle with a swirling mass of starlings being challenged in an arial dance of by a large swirling flock of lapwing. I returned a day later to do my counts and all the flocks had gone leaving a couple of teal as the only highlight.
Drake teal a small but colourful highlight
At my larger lake based WEBS count there was little to indicate it was winter with fine sunshine and only a handful of winter coot and tufted ducks. The sound of calling nuthatch and woodpeckers drumming lifted the spirits as I watched patiently. Eventually I met a man who took some time to tell me what I had missed over the last week or so and here are the highlights in pictorial form.
Brent Goose. Two dropped in with some greylag geese as rare winter visitors this far inland
Photo Credit: markgosling94 Flickr via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: grahamthomas42 Flickr via Compfight cc
Goshawk passing through the site not this handsome fellow but the even more impressive female bird.
Clearly it pays to be out more often than I have been if you want to get your yearly tally of special birds up and is advice I will attempt to follow. Video post for this week come from the delightfully titled ‘carcass cam’. I have been waiting a while for a large animal to unfortunately pass away and this week a local red deer did just that and will hopefully offer some videos of the more fortunate wildlife that benefit from its passing. The early visitors are from the crow family. Check back soon to see what else comes to visit.
There has been a delay since the last post but not this time due to distractions of a busy unrelenting modern world but due to the editorial team taking a well deserved break to relax amongst the wonders of a less modern world.
Difficult not to be moved by the grandeur of ancient Rome
Keen eyed ornithologists will have noticed the soaring bird life in the photo above which has watched the ebb and flow of empires. The birds in the picture are yellow legged gulls and they were joined by other occasional UK birds in the form of monk parakeets and hooded crows as well as the staple feral pigeon.
Close up and personal the yellow legged gull occasionally seen in Norfolk hotspots but not yet recorded in the birds of Hethersett.
Back on the local patch the winter weather has been interspersed with an occasional fine morning which has allowed some farmland survey work including some of the fields west of the village around Market Lane. My recent visit started with mammals as soon as I arrived in market lane with three of the local roe deer crossing the fields boldly as though without a care in the world. I kicked of near a steaming pile of compost and sitting on top was a skylark which took off and dragged up behind it the rest of a flock of 15 birds which made a good start.
One of 15 beautiful skylarks
As I continued walking I soon started to pick up some first for the year including an early drumming great spotted woodpecker and a flock of siskin. I also saw a number of impressive flocks of woodpigeon including one of 400 birds no doubt including some continental birds brought across the North Sea by colder weather elsewhere.
Winter visitor to the village a male siskin.
I picked up a couple of unexpected flocks of ducks over the fields including mallard and teal which had obviously been overnighting at some of the local fishing ponds. In the summer I had taken the same route and seen a number of brown hare but the bare patch of earth they had scampered across was now a winter seed crop with a host of feeding chaffinch and blackbirds. My walk ended to the sound of buzzards and a very healthy calling pair of marsh tits doubtless full of seed from my local feeding station. Last birds of the day were a fast moving flock of fluffed up long tailed tits and this is the best I could manage in terms of a photo.
Earlier this week I did spend half an hour at my feeding station hoping to get some close ups of the locals and managed the following in the soft afternoon light.
Great tit fresh from feeding
Hastily snatched shot of a Nuthatch new to the feeder
Video for this post is from the BTO and partners and a reminder of how to tell your siskins from your serins should you need it.
This week has seen a lot of activity at the local badger setts. This is the time of year adults are cleaning out tunnels pending the imminent arrival of young badgers. I rarely get to see any activity at the local sett with maybe a glimpse of a fleeting animal if I am lucky but with a full moon on its way I managed an evening visit. I was greeted in the woods by the clatter of wood pigeon wings and a couple of disgruntled carrion crows and soon settled down in the hide. It is surprising on a quiet night how sounds travel and the quacking of roosting mallards could be heard from half a mile away.
Mallard just another night time tick for January
The mallards weren’t the only waterbirds to keep me company in the clear night I soon had a fly over by an Egyptian goose which sounded panicked but then they often do. Eventually the more regular night timers started up with hooting and calling of tawny owls and the barking of roe deer. After a while the night settled and there was just a distant echo of traffic until I was disturbed in my temporary solitude by munching. Badgers as regular springwatch viewers will know are very noisy eaters and I was treated to three of them hoovering up some peanuts. The size of them particularly the big male surprised me, as they moved about in the moonlight just a few feet from where I sat.
Badgers a magical set of companions in the night.
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Today I returned to the hide with a young companion to help me round up a selection of guests in the daylight who had decided to share my hide. Between us we collected photographed and ejected a number of eight legged friends all of which are unidentified at this time but this yellow striped one was the most colourful.
The bird life around us was much more to my taste and we topped up the feeders whilst being watched by a host of small birds including wrens, blue and great tits and a number of long tailed tits. As we left the woods we saw a light coloured buzzard which instead of taking off just crashed away through the brambles clearly unable to fly. With a considerable slice of luck we had only just met the local falconer and his Goshawk so we tracked down the grounded buzzard and called in the expert at handling birds of prey.
A well camouflaged hiding buzzard.
The bird was soon caught up and has safely been delivered to a local sanctuary with no obvious serious injuries so fingers crossed for it being nothing that will prevent a release back into the wild soon. Fortunately I and my two nine year old assistants got a few moments with this wild beauty before it was whisked away.
Video for this post is a taste of what is to come in the woods this spring.
I have just been advised by word press that Hethersett Bird life is now 4 years old so this years new years resolution is to continue to 5 years old. Last year actually saw the lowest tally for self found birds around the village with only 63 listed and a paltry total compared with 2017’s heady 71 Species. The year started well with a garden Barn owl but went a bit down hill after the owls apparently fled and did not return to breed. 2018 did see my first reed bunting which was a small replacement for the owl.
Male reed bunting showing a hint of his summer finery
The reed bunting was present this morning for a walk around the winter bird seed crop on the west of the village but took a bit of finding in amongst a couple of hundred linnets and a 100 chaffinch as well as a a dozen yellow hammer. 2019 has started well for all these birds with record numbers thanks to the winter seed. Totals of linnets alone have been recorded at 300 plus flocks. Today a badly behaved dog also put up three pheasants which again are clearly drawn in by the seed.
Swirling Linnets kindly sent in by Tracy M
This month will see the annual Big Garden Birdwatch and with this in mind I filled the feeders this morning and was rewarded with a full set of finches including a chaffinch that wasn’t out with his mates in the west some goldfinch a greenfinch and a really splendid pair of bullfinch.
Male bullfinch a garden favourite
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January WEBS counts of wetland birds this year began as last year with a great white egret putting in a star appearance along with a record sighting of over 80 common gulls who dropped in to bathe and possibly roost. It has been over 10 years since this many birds were recorded and near by a flock of nearly a hundred Canada geese was another ten year high and looked splendid spread across the marshes at Algarsthorpe. I had assumed this was the highest number ever but a check revealed a flock of over 300 in 2008 which must have been awesome.
Single Canada goose
Video for this post comes from the local badger sett and is of a local who is in the middle of the hunting season so here’s wishing him a safe new year.
This week has seen me brave the biting winds and winter cold to get out in some wildlife friendly farmland locally to check on the winter visitors. As I set out, on a fresh wintry morning I wished I’d remembered my woolly hat. I very soon forgot the inconvenience and was lost in wonder as my first bird was a hunting barn owl quartering a field just in front of me.
The silent hunting Barn owl
Photo Credit: Simon Stobart Flickr via Compfight cc
Soon after my barn owl and in amongst the expected crows. rooks and jackdaws came the next surprise as a single skylark flying up from some winter stubble heralding a further dozen which flew up and then washed away with the wind. A little further on in the lea of an overgrown farm garden and feeding on a winter seed patch another flock this time of chaffinches bobbed backwards and forwards in the wind,
Difficult not to love a flock of chaffinch
Whilst I watched the chaffinch busy in their search for seeds there were a few fieldfare over head, The recent mixed weather seems to be keeping these winter thrushes on the move and you never know if you will see a hundred or two or three. Recent flocks seem to be shadowed by small charms of goldfinches with anything up to thirty in tow. Fortunately in the cold I managed to blag a lift back to my car with a local who apologized for not mentioning a few days before, the short eared owl which had been where I had watched the barn owl.
Short Eared owl hunting
Photo Credit: Simon Stobart Flickr via Compfight cc
The short eared owl, a good candidate for my favourite owl, is rarely seen inland but up to four have been previously seen together hunting in winter south of Norwich but I guess I will have to wait to add it to the Birds of Hethersett. This posts video comes from the local badger sett which has been very active recently and judging by the video should have cubs in the new year.
I am sure even in winter the days used to be longer when I was younger. They appear to be almost non existent in the last few weeks with precious little time pre and post work to get in a birding fix. Fortunately the usual stead-fasts of early morning Cathedral peregrines and evening pied wagtail roosts at the Norfolk and Norwich hospital bring a welcome relief and moments of winter magic.
Cathedral Peregrine falcon keeping the pigeons nervous
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Weekend travels locally have seen the increase in swirling flocks of Linnets over the winter bird crop on the west of the village with anything up to 200 birds being seen along with growing numbers of chaffinches and the occasional yellow hammer and reed bunting for good measure. As the weather cools it will be interesting to see what other visitors turn up. whilst out I was also fortunate enough to bump into the local falconer providing a good excuse to compare the goshawk with the peregrine.
Goshawk up close easy to separate from his smaller cousin
In and around the village there is still plenty of winter action going on with regular fly overs of redwing and fieldfare with a lot of the latter to be seen in the fields on the rural outskirts particularly towards Great Melton along Market Lane. In the village the it is also easy to see the numbers of winter black-headed gulls building and bringing a splash of noise and light to some otherwise drab days.
Look out for the rooftop Redwing.
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The camera traps out recently have caught all the usual critters including badger, fox, muntjac and roe deer, woodmice and squirrels but no particularly good footage so here is this posts video of a couple of young Roe bucks caught earlier in the year when the days were a bit warmer.
Short winter days are here but they come with benefits as the winter migrants make themselves known as soon as the winter sun comes up. Over the last weeks redwings and fieldfare can often be seen for those who remember to #lookup. The largest flock of fieldfare I have seen in the last fortnight was an impressive 65 birds and they were accompanied by a charm of 35 goldfinch adding to the spectacle.
Fieldfare harbinger of winter snow
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In a recently re-blogged post (available Here) we highlighted the bonus for winter birds of the local winter seed crops for birds planted by the great Melton Farms. I took a number of walks out through this area and the seed crops are now starting to weigh heavy with seed and attracting the farmland birds close to the village. The most obvious birds are perhaps the linnets which although they are small finches have been turning up in numbers with up to 80 birds at a time along with other birds accompanying them.
Linnet generally a little brown job but the males have a pink chest and crown if they let you get close enough to see.
The linnets are often accompanied by the larger and more colourful yellow hammer but last week an even rarer associate was hanging around with them. I first noticed the linnets as they were mobbing a hunting Kestrel who was hunting field vole which are obviously benefiting from the seed bonanza. Then I noticed watching me from the nearby hedge a bird which I have not seen locally before.I quickly grabbed the camera for a record shot and pointed it out to my 9 year old companions who were bug hunting.
Record shot of the latest rarity brought in by winter seed.
I have never seen a reed bunting locally although they are very occasionally seen in winter but this female like the linnets and hunting kestrel have all been brought into our lives by good farming practice and make a walk around the west hethersett loop especially on a sunny winters morning something to cherish. During another similar walk near Great Melton I happened across one of the local goshawks not the wild one who has been terrorising the local wood pigeons but the local falconers bird getting ready for some winter hunting and I couldn’t resist taking a photo or two.
A slightly warm male Goshawk panting and looking forward to some cooler hunting weather.
This posts video comes not from me but the BTO and partners and is useful for those partaking in a winter stroll and wanting to tell apart the farmland birds. In the meantime I will get out and recover the camera traps and see which of them may be starring next time.