winter owls and other magic moments.


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.

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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,

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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.

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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.

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Short days


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.

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Cathedral Peregrine falcon keeping the pigeons nervous

Photo Credit: Kevin Fox D500 Flickr via Compfight cc

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.

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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.

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Look out for the rooftop Redwing.

Photo Credit: smir_001 Flickr via Compfight cc

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.

Wild July Highlights


Wild June ended with some final survey work around the village and I had the assistance of my usual 9 year old accomplice. The ripening winter wheat had brought in some serious woodpigeon numbers with one flock of 150 birds in amongst the singing skylarks and yellow hammers. It wasn’t the birds that most pleased my assistant though it was the animals with a foxy pair of red ears and tail bouncing through the golden wheat a few yards away and then a little further on several brown hares carried out some chasing about in a vaguely kind of mad march way.

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Poor cropped phone shot I call ‘9 year old in the sun with hares’

We kicked off Wild July with some badger watching in the evenings at the local sett and whilst early visit produced little by the way of badger there were plenty of young tawny owls calling and flying overhead giving good views and the late evening produced singing songthrush which fed in front of us oblivious to our presence and robins a regular blackcap and an assortment of crows and pheasants.

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Evening songster.

We gave the badger watching a break for a few days and I left the hide flaps slightly open in case the badgers needed to get used to this. On our return My assistant soon pointed out that this had let in some eight legged guests which she didn’t approve of. With them evicted we settled down listening to the local buzzards calling above us and a persistent wasp trying to get into the tent. Eventually I worked out that its persistence and the unmistakable sound of wasp nest building meant we had other guests and we left sharpish.

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Not sure how we missed this creation a few foot above us for the best part of 15 minutes

The unexpected occupant were disposed of which was unfortunate for them and I felt slightly guilty having got the chance of a close look at their truly amazing handiwork.

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Cant failed to be amazed at the quality of this built my mouth using chewed up wood in the dark

Highlights in the village itself have definitely included a couple of additions to the  ‘garden list’ in the form of soaring kites and buzzards and during this months WEBS counts my assitant was pleased with the following find which I believe are both buzzard feathers.

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Buzzard feathers (I believe)

Videos for this post comprise a quick quiz and answer pair. Whilst visiting badger setts in the evening there are always rustles and spooky noises. Possibly the one that made me jump the most was the woodmouse that ran around my feet whilst sitting in the hide. But have a listen to this which was a regular caller in the dark on route to the hide.

This is the culprit wandering through our view from the hide earlier in the year.

 

 

A little bit of wild June


We have hit the middle of #30dayswild the wildlife trusts annual invitation to do something wild and revel in nature each day even if it is only for a few minutes. Today having checked out their website I discovered they even have an ap which I shall be using to see what random acts of wildness appear to enrich the lives of my 9 year old assistant and myself.

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Who Can resist a random wildness button?

Early wild events have included the less random but no less enjoyable visits to the wild places near the village including one to one of my WEBS sites. The large lake was very busy on arrival with huge rafts of moulting greylag geese some with youngsters. There were also good numbers of Canada and Egyptian geese and even a little barnacle goose for good measure.

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Greylags with fluffy offspring.

There were plenty of other birds with youngsters including a gadwall, great crested grebes, lots of wobbly black- headed gull chicks. The common terns were still brooding their eggs but hopefully they will hatch soon. After the visit and count was complete I was taken to nearby Great Melton to see an unusual orchid one of several present at the site.

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The rare and very delicate albino bee orchid.

One of the definite highlights has been a bit of badger watching with my nine year old assistant and whilst the elusive badgers have struggled with an appearance we have been treated to tawny owls being chased through the woods by scolding jays and black birds. Whilst we watched the sett we were treated to a feeding song thrush in the evening dappled sunshine in front of our hide and then the evening chorus which although short and sweet is every bit as beautiful as its bigger dawn brother. Ours included all the birds above as well as some tone deaf crows and pheasants. Fortunately some more tuneful robins and wrens joined in along with goldcrests and a couple of bullfinches. As we walked home we bumped into a muntjac deer and her tiny stripy fawn.

The badgers didn’t completely elude me as I changed the camera traps earlier in the week and as I was least expecting it a black and white beast saw me from one of the tunnel entrances and clumped of heavy footed back into the sett. Later in the day I also manged to record my first Leislers Bat and again as I was heading home I picked out the glowing eyes and then unmistakable form of a polecat in my headlamps.

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Still waiting for this photo but who knows what wild June will bring

Photo Credit: Tony CC Gray Flickr via Compfight cc

I’ve been away. Skomer.


All people should see puffins in the flesh, especially 9 year old assistants. They are a bird so full of comedy and enjoyment they are food for the soul. They are a little sparse around the village so I opted for one of two safe locations to see them, the Island of Skomer off the South Wales Coast. My other previous option is Northumberland’s Farne Islands for the record.

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Option 1 Skomer viewed from the mainland.

On route to Skomer there were a few necessary diversions including the castle at Caerphilly which can be described only as impressive being the largest surviving medieval stronghold in the country. I was of course impressed with the sand martins which nested in its ramparts and caught their meals above the moat as well as by the lesser black-backed gulls that stood like sentries on each towering rampart.

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Difficult not to be impressed

The castle moat also boasted a number of varieties of geese including greylag and canada and hybrid geese and I couldn’t help wonder if any of them could trace their lineage back to the original castle inhabitants. There was also what appeared to be a semi permanent display of birds of prey including the Village favourite.

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Sleepy Welsh Tawny owl (I phone shot )

Post castle and the next morning we set off early for tickets to Skomer via the ferries which start at 10 o’clock. Very pleased with myself I arrived an hour early to ensure a space on the boat. Alas on sunny half term weekend with a dead calm sea it turned out that I would have needed  to arrive three hours early to ensure a guaranteed ticket and was lucky to get an extra boat tour around the island but no chance of the visit I had hoped for. Having an hour to wait I opted for a walk around the area and was treated to meadow pipits and skylarks singing along the coast as well as to nest building swallows.

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Swallow clearly in a hurry to get the summer accommodation up to scratch.

Eventually the boat arrived and we headed off for our tour of the birds. We were soon heading through small rafts of razorbills then guillimots and finally puffins. Unfortunately whilst we had good views they were a little distant for good photography.

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Puffin looking as only they can.

As we headed round the island we more views of nesting birds and the local kittiwakes and lesser black-backed gulls and puffins would fly on frantic wings over the boat often in small flocks.

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Birds on every part of the coastline

Whilst the boat trip was limited in terms of what I had hoped to see and even more in terms of photographic opportunities I was treated to and unexpected personal highlight as two unmistakable black birds tumbled down a grassy slope. They were choughs and the first I had seen since a childhood visit to the same island no doubt descendants of my first birds given the tiny UK population.

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Bright red legs and curved Bill of the UK’s rarest crow the Chough

All in all I was very happy with the start if this years 30 days Wild and can also recommend the use of Air B&B which produced a very pleasant low cost stay,  local to the island at short notice in the half-term.

This posts video comes from one of the badger setts close to the village and I had set up the Crenovo trail-cam hoping to get a shot of this years Badger cubs. I wasn’t disappointed and think I count seven youngsters in total

Summer Friends


May has brought record temperatures and a positively Summer feel to the village. Once again a lack of posts is down to too much time spent in the fields and not a lack of stuff to talk about. Whilst out counting skylarks and linnets on a local farm I heard a sound I have missed since last year the sharp and slightly abrasive calls of a pair of common terns who returned to my WEBS site in the last fortnight. Always worth looking out for over the village as they will travel to feed at any large lake and should be fishing until they depart in September.

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Common Tern with a light Lunch.

Photo Credit: Kate E Sutherland Flickr via Compfight cc

Having seen the terns I followed up my arable ramblings with a visit to my nearby WEBS site. Not quite all of the local warblers were singing but the melody of willow warbler was joined by garden warbler and punctuated by cetti’s warbler as I headed towards the water and as I passed through the oak woods chiffchaff and black caps tried to out sing each other. There were plenty of butterflies flitting through the dappled woodland groves with speckled wood and orange tips, large white, peacock and red admiral all present.

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Green Veined White. The Only butterfly that stopped long enough for a photo.

Down on the lake beyond the oaks there was plenty of noise with over 50 nesting black-headed gulls. out on the edge of their colonies were half a dozen common tern with one nesting right on the water’s edge. apparently not so bothered by the gulls was a nesting great crested grebe and hidden in the reeds and lakeside plants I am guessing were lapwings and oystercatcher also nesting as their partners patrolled nearby. In amongst the usual ducks was a lone male shoveller.

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Drake shoveler filtering food out of the water with his specialized bill.

As I watched the lakes birds I was treated to marsh tits and long tailed tits zipping backwards and forwards foraging for food. Three lesser black backed Gulls buzzed the breeding colony looking for a snack but were chased off by hordes of their little cousins. The greatest commotion came when the oystercatchers scrambled like fighters high into the air and the local geese started to clamour at the pass over by a red kite.

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Lesser black-backed gull. Scourge of nesting birds around the village.

Whilst I was out I thought I heard a distant call of a cuckoo now a rarity locally but one was heard later in the village over the paddocks. Both the calling cuckoo and the next surprise the return of the screaming swifts over the village were three days later than last year. Clearly no one had told them about the fine weather and it had been the local starlings that had been out soaring and flycathing as the sun shone.

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Splendid starling now replaced by screaming swifts overhead.

This posts video comes from a trail cam placed again under a pheasant feeder and this time close up to give a very personal view of a hungry soul. Due to the inquisitive nature of the diner shortly afterwards the camera was uprooted and caught only pleasant views of overhead clouds and not much else.

 

April highlights


April finally brought fine warm days and a chance to catch up with a range of bird surveys which may have restricted blogging, but not time in the great outdoors. The spring migrants have been streaming in with swallows returning to the local farms and the sounds of warblers filling the air.

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Lesser Whitethroat one of the recent warbling arrivals

Photo Credit: Mark_Coates Flickr via Compfight cc

As I carried out my annual early visit to a BBS survey site in Wymondham I was serenaded by the calls and songs of whitethroat, Lesser whitethroat, willow warbler and chiffchaff all eager to get on with summer breeding. It is perhaps a little sad that one of the most populated spots is due to be covered with car park and follows on from local housing development removing any last hope of a singing skylark or a mad brown hare. Fortunately my second more arable survey at Wicklewood had a hoste of skylarks and  yellowhammers to assuage my soul.

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Yellow Hammer available in countryside near you. But only in yellow.

Keen to get some photos of yellowhammers myself I had a look at a site near the village which has birds which take advantage of the local pheasant feeders. Pheasant feeders may not be good news in the long run for pheasants as there is no such thing as a free meal when the hunting party eventually arrives but I was intrigued to find out what else happened along to make the most of free food. My first surprise was that I accidentally disturbed a roosting barn owl, so whilst I still haven’t seen the village ones I have been treated to a close up of the silent hunter.

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Barn owl still missing from the village if not my life.

Whilst out placing the trailcam to check if the area might be suitable for photography I was treated to a flock of 25 Linnets a pair of red-legged partridges and a pair of buzzards soaring close overhead a well as a brief encounter with a roe deer who was as surprised to see me as I was him. The cameras were retrieved one evening and I managed to pick out pipistrelle bat with a detector but no sign of the owl. The cameras had been busy and there were a variety of avian visitors.

There are a variety of videos being uploaded on the usual you tube site (click here) but I included this one as it included my favourite jackdaws as well as a stock dove. The latter was one of many which benefited from a free feed Other birds seen included magpie, rook, crow, jay, dunnock, yellowhammer, robin, blackbird, red legged partridge. The next video was my favourite non avian highlight.

The badger was in good company with the grey squirrels, rabbits, wood mice, roe deer and muntjac deer as well as some less welcome brown rats. Clearly wildlife will always take advantage of a free meal and I look forward to monitoring the site to see what else is taking advantage of the feeders but also winter planted seed crops and extra wild bird seed also put in place by the landowner.