Of swifts and things


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

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

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

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Yellow flowers and blue skies perfect for surveying.

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

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

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

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

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

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Lesser spotted woodpecker and other patch highlights


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

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

Photo Credit: toothandclaw1 Flickr via Compfight cc

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

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Tawny owl, probably overseeing by brush cutting handy work.

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

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

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

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

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

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Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Small rare and perfectly formed

 

 

 

Photo Credit: andreasezelius Flickr via Compfight cc

Spring walks


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

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Whats not to love about 20 yellowhammers on your doorstep?

Photo Credit: brianwaller703 Flickr via Compfight cc

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

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Male reed bunting being less than confiding

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Robin, rather more confiding

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

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Drake Mandarin currently appearing regularly at Thorpe Green

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Drake Gargany appeared this week at Whitlingham

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

Giant in Spring


I have procrastinated on this latest post as I was hoping to announce the first of the spring migrants, primarily the new herald of Spring the chiffchaff. Whilst they have been heard along with whitethroat not to far away in Marlingford they have still to put in an appearance locally. As I ran out this evening I did have the unexpected pleasure of hearing another spring returnee with a calling Oystercatcher over New Road.

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Oystercatcher the noisy face of spring one to look out for over the village

Pairs of Oystercatchers have also livened up this months WEBS counts on both my sites and the counts have highlighted the transition of the seasons with the noisy piping of the pied pipers set against the quiet whistles of the few remaining winter wigeon also present on the WEBS counts. Fluctuating water levels have also resulted in lots of gulls on the counts with the usual culprits in the form of black headed, lesser black backed and herring gulls along with pleasingly high counts of the less common, common gull.

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The not so common Common Gull.

One of my WEBS counts also produced in quick succession red kite great white egret and three little egrets. Strange to think that a couple of decades ago this would probably have been three lifers for me just shows what some man made introduction and global warming can achieve….

Recently I have also done a little travelling with my 9 year old assistant and we realised the other day that neither of us had knowingly seen the worlds tallest tree so a quick google and trip saw us Head for far flung Wymondham to check out the majesty of the Giant Redwood.

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Towering Redwood at the junction of Silfield Road and Silfield Street

My companion was a little disappointed that we couldn’t drive through a tunnel dug out of the base of the tree but understood that this was no longer the done thing as its not entirely good for the tree. Following the tree our trip headed out to the far East and great Yarmouth. After the lure of  Mediterranean gulls and tumbling two pence pieces was satisfied we went out to Breydon water to take in the high tide spectacle and watched the thousands of gulls waders and wildfowl waiting patiently for the turn of the tide. If I had to pick a favourite it was probably the pintail quietly and elegantly feeding under screaming redshank making up for the lone one I had missed earlier in the winter locally.

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Ever elegant pintail

This post ends with a video from the BTO and partners as a reminder to those who might need it as to how to separate our impending spring warbler friends. I am also looking for sightings of any willow warblers locally as the last couple of years have been worryingly devoid of local records

Clumsy Buzzard


Back in January regular readers will remember how I and a team of trained experts and some 9 year olds rescued a downed buzzard. It turned out he had broken his wing some ten days prior to rescue and having had it lovingly reset and mended he was due for release last weekend. Alas whilst getting himself match fit he injured his foot and so never made it off the bench at the weekend. Check back soon for the big release story.

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Local Buzzard in the early morning mist. This one clearly of the non clumsy variety

Having dipped out on buzzard release I tried my hand at some Spring wildlife management  and on one of the recent fine sunny morning I grabbed my boots a saw and some power tools and headed out locally to tame some overzealous brambles and willows. The local mere was missing the last of the winter Wigeon which have now all gone but still held some tufted ducks a couple of shoveller and some fishing cormorants and in pride of place fishing in the reed beds a great white egret.

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Perhaps the nicest surprise, was whilst checking out one of the islands that needed a trim, were four common sandpiper whose camouflage was so good that they just flew up from nowhere with one almost from under foot.

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A non camouflaged common sandpiper

Photo Credit: billywhiz07 Flickr via Compfight cc

With the spring moving in and some bright mornings I have taken the odd hour to get in some seasonal mindfulness and enter the calm and peaceful surround of my photographic hide. This is surrounded now by daffodils and early clouds of white blossom adding to the already present snow drops. The hide lets me get up very close and personal with some village favourites and I was hoping to see the local marsh tits and maybe a nuthatch. Certainly the trees were full of calling nuthatch but they never made it out of the canopy.

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First to appear and also in fine voice a male Chaffinch

One of the beauties of a hide which is made only from canvas is that you can hear the birds all around you and as well as the songs of robin, goldcrest wren and long tailed tits after a while you can start to tell who is arriving by the sound of their wings as they fly over head and all around you. The sound of a great tit landing clearly different from their smaller cousins the blue tits and coal tits.

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Coal tit enjoying some free food

After a while a powerful much louder wing beat flew about the hide. The owner of these functional wings stayed out of sight and left me wondering what it could be until out from bend the trunk of the tree it scuttled with feet that almost appeared to stick by magic a female great spotted woodpecker.

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Great spotted woodpecker a welcome addition to the hide list.

Now video for the post was potentially going to be the sight of a buzzard flying to freedom but that wasn’t to be so it is a return for carcass cam and I had hoped again perhaps for a buzzard if not a golden eagle or some hungry wolves. Clearly the last two are dreams of something more spring watch and the only thing that has made it to my carcass is …….. crows.

 

Look what you could have won…


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.

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Snowdrops bursting out all over the place.

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.

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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.

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Brent Goose. Two dropped in with some greylag geese as rare winter visitors this far inland

Photo Credit: markgosling94 Flickr via Compfight cc

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Male Goosander another winter visiting waterfowl sadly missed.

Photo Credit: grahamthomas42 Flickr via Compfight cc

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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.