Pre Christmas presents


The Christmas lights are up in arguably the most festive village in the UK and hopefully they are not putting migrating birds off as they fly over. Recently some of the local lakes and my WEBS sites have been hosting some special guests which have include not one but three Great white egrets and a touch down of some Brent geese. The Brent geese are residents of Northern Russia but winter on the Norfolk Coast and the wash so it is a rare treat to see these birds even briefly inland as they stopped for a breather and a freshen up before heading off again.

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Compact and dark the Brent goose easily distinguishable from most of the locals

Photo Credit: garrymoors Flickr via Compfight cc

Whilst the geese didn’t make it onto this months official counts I did have some welcome guests as I scanned the local lake. First up were the flocks of coots and winter ducks including tufted duck ,pochard and gadwall. After a while a small flock of wigeon drifted in and made their presence known with their wild whistling calls. Just as the dusk was threatening to end an already short day I got my first sight of a little grebe for the winter and as I watched it getting closer in the gloom a little egret ghosted past looking for somewhere to settle amongst the cormorants and the larger grey heron. The only birds noticeable by their absence were the winter teal which I think may now be spread out in all the flooded pools and woodland rather than on the usual lake.

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After the WEBS count I also had the opportunity on a morning that unusually wasn’t lashing down with torrential rain to wade through the mud and assist with some bird ringing. The nets were up before the dawn to see if we could collect as many of the roosting thrushes as they go up. Redwings soon made it into the nets to be rung and duly released unharmed along with a song thrush and a variety of blackbirds some local and some from northern Europe like the redwings. Perhaps the star bird however was another possible foreigner a mistle thrush clearly more bulky than his slender cousins and covered in spectacular upward pointing spots.

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Very Beautiful Mistle Thrush

Having got Youtube functioning again this posts video comes from some derelict pig sheds which are occasionally home to one of the local barn owls. Early fuzzy camera shots have included woodmice a weasel and a variety of non owl shaped avian visitors two of whom  star this week. Who knows  maybe some owl magic next time.

Patch Gold


As October slips away I have made as many attempts as possible to get out and enjoy local birding highlights and have managed to do so alongside a local bird ringer. The opportunity to see even the common birds very close up even briefly is not to be missed and gives benefits outside of the scientific ones . The first foray took place near one my local  WEBS sites and soon produced a range of small wild wonders with snappy blue tits, grumpy wrens and gorgeous goldcrests.

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Only close up do you get to see the orange hues that splits the male from the female goldcrest

As well as the opportunity to see the birds close up there is also the chance to tell with some certainty if they are this years birds and get an idea of how good a breeding season it has been and it appeared to have been a good one. In amongst the youngsters were not just blue tits and great tits but also a summer special a blackcap made its way into the gentle embrace of the mist nets before being rung measured and set free.

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Keeping an eye on proceedings and out of the nets and adult great tit

Winter visitors were also captured and alongside noisy blackbirds and a songthrush were a number of redwings part of last weeks winter return and invasion, all feeding up on the berry laden bushes and hedgerows. Out of the nets I was also pleased to see a flock of 60 teal  and a marsh tit which has been eluding me for a couple of months.

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relocated Marsh tit

Closer to home with some ringing just off the west Hethersett loop at Cedar grange we got close and personal with record numbers of reed bunting and plenty of yellow hammer. The flocks of birds were being targetted by a sparrowhawk and an opportunistic buzzard but another raptor grabbed my attention being mobbed by starlings and a crow and a new record for the village as a short eared owl circled and then flew off south Esat.

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Here in all his glory the Hethersett  Short eared owl

It is fair to say my snatched record shot doesn’t do this far travelling  hunter justice so below is a more photgenic version of this rare village visitor.

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Photo Credit: fletchlewista2 Flickr via Compfight cc

This post’s video comes from my last working trailcam which has fortunately been supplemented by a couple of new Crenova cameras so the regular updates on the you tube site should start to pick up again with a range of new wildlife offerings. I had hoped to get some grey partridges this time out but got these red legged ones instead.

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.

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.

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.

 

Downed


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.

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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.

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Badgers a magical set of companions in the night.

Photo Credit: colskiguitar Flickr via Compfight cc

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.

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#Smallblackspider 

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.

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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.

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Rescued but not entirely grateful.

Video for this post is a taste of what is to come in the woods this spring.

2019 A new beginning


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.

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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.

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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.

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Male bullfinch a garden favourite

Photo Credit: eerokiuru Flickr via Compfight cc

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.

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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.

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.

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.

Winter rarity


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.

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Fieldfare harbinger of winter snow

Photo Credit: Full Moon Images Flickr via Compfight cc

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.