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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
Whats not to love about 20 yellowhammers on your doorstep?
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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.
Male reed bunting being less than confiding
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.
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.
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.
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
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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
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Still waiting for this photo but who knows what wild June will bring
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