Out with the old


Time for a look back at the highlights of 2019 locally and to look forward to something new. As WordPress users will be aware blogging for free has its limits and this site is close to those limits after a few years, so sighting updates from hereafter will appear on our sister site Wild Hethersett as well as the usual twitter feed. This site will be kept up to date, especially the ever popular bird walks and most who join us on the new site will notice very little change but in keeping with the new site the posts will often cover a slightly wider variety of nature than has been the case with this unashamed avian celebration.

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Reed Bunting the good news star of 2019

Photo Credit: Prank F Flickr via Compfight cc

So as is typical and fitting this is a look back at the village birds of 2019 and I will start with the above bird who is likely to star again in 2020. The reedbunting (1), the linnet  (2) and yellow hammer (3) have all done well this year and there are promising signs that good farming practices including winter seed planting are making a difference to these three stars. Anyone who has watched these wheeling about on Cedar grange this year will have also had the opportunity to watch alongside them our more typical fare of Gold finch (4) greenfinch (5) Chaffinch (6) dunnock (7) blue tit (8) coal tit (9) great tit and long-tailed tit (10).

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Long tailed tit arguably the cutest of the locals.

The hedgerows have also been home to a variety of birds alongside the fields including the wren (11), robin (12), blackbird (13)  song thrush (14) and mistle thrush (15). The latter two are notable at this time of year alongside the redwing (16) and fieldfare’s (17). The spring saw the hedgerows full too, of the usual summer visitors including the now regularly breeding lesser whitethroat (18) his commoner cousins the whitethroat  (19) chiffchaff (20) and blackcap (21). Worryingly this is the third year in a row during which the lilting tune willow warbler has been absent from the village treetops.

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Whitethroat still sing for us around the villages rural outskirts

Off course with all the songbirds there will be a few predators about which have included this year kestrel (22) sparrowhawk  (23) buzzard (24) and red kite (25) the latter is not much of a bird threat but one of the most impressive. Feeding on the fields and potential food for sparrow hawks have been loads of the villages most common sight wood pigeon (26) as well as their cousins stock doves (27) and collared doves (28). If I look back at garden memories from the year the most colourful are bullfinch (29) and great spotted woodpecker as well arguably  the villages smallest resident the goldcrest (30).

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Great spotted woodpecker always a garden favourite when they show.

Slightly smaller than the woodpecker but arguably as colourful the nuthatch (31)  is always a regular as is the less common and colourful treecreeper (31). More colour from the crows including jay (32)  and magpie (33) as well as their more sombre cousins the rook (34) carrion crow (35) and jackdaw (36). Plenty of the usual flyover activity with black headed gull (37) common gull (38) herring gull (39)  and lesser black-backed gull (40). There were some other fly over fishermen including grey heron (41) and the less common kingfisher (42) and for the first time of counting a new entry with a little egret (43).

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Little egret always a welcome garden tick.

Of course the real masters of the sky turned up in the summer with Swifts (44) house martins (45)  and swallow (46) with the latter noticeable by their general absence and lower numbers year on year. Other more unusual flyovers have included Egyptian geese   (47) mute swan (48) and mallards (49) . Greylag (50)  and barnacle geese (51) have joined their watery friends and out on the ponds and wet village fringes moorhen (52) and coot (53) have both been present with little grebe (54)  and gadwall (55) as usual at the Hall. No nocturnal flyovers of wigeon this year but did manage to hear some teal (56) last week.

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Teal a welcome flyover bird often found locally at this time of year

Other night time birds of course include the local owl population include the vocal tawny owls (57) and little owls (58) and briefly this year some barn owl (59) calling but unfortunately  no breeding barn owls for the second year running. Arguably the star bird in terms of unexpected was a daytime flyer was a rare local the  Short eared owl (60). So who have I missed from the list  pheasants at (61) have been frequenting the local fields but I have missed their cousins the partridges which have been close by in terms of red-legged and grey but missed by me. An other missed are the regular Canada geese which goes to show I haven’t been checking the local lakes as often as I have in the past drawn away by my more exciting WEBS areas. A large skein of pink footed geese was also missed by myself over the village in the last week or so.

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Canada goose still plentiful in the area but missed by me in and around the village.

The ever present and nearly over looked starling (62)  comes in almost last alongside the green woodpecker (63) and easily overlooked feral pigeon (64). Skylark (65) was of course one of my favourite local songsters but common tern (66)  and oystercatcher (67) both came to notice due to their vocal skills Having checked back on previous counts since the site started in 2015 this isn’t a bad  result and local birding has significantly improved my environmental credentials with 99% of my year list of 105 being from within 7 miles of home. However you choose to watch yours in 2020 Happy New Year.

 

 

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.

Autumn surprises


It is over a week ago that a solitary swift drifted south across my garden marking the last of his kind until next summer for me. Always a sad and sudden end to summer days and this week I have watched swallows and housemartins fattening up on the wing as they follow behind and there were still a couple lingering at Marlingford today but none in Hethersett that I have seen.

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Going but not forgotten Housemartin heading south.

Photo Credit: Tim Melling Flickr via Compfight cc

The local lakes are starting to fill with early winter visitors, if not with water and my most recent WEBS count saw the return of our smallest duck the teal in good numbers along with wintering flocks of lapwings and tufted ducks. Also present on the islands left larger than normal by the low water levels were 220 roosting greylag geese and making them look a little smaller a great black-backed gull preening himself and keeping an eye on the young moorhens as potential snacks.

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Young Moorhen or Potential Gull food.

 

Whilst Autumn is rolling in some local highlights have included some special birds that tend to make headlines in Spring when they are easiest to see and hear. Lesser spotted woodpeckers usually draw a crowd and the latest local spot that can cope with a few extra well behaved birdwatchers is Ladybelt Country Park. The park which has featured previously on this blog has its own regularly updated wildlife sightings blog which can be accessed (HERE) if you want to read more about the park and its birds.  

Lady belt runs with the help of volunteers as does the Hethersett county wildlife site at Beckhithe Meadow which saw some frantic activity clearing ponds and bramble on the last weekend of August with an overnight moth trap being examined before any work was done. Thanks to Matt Casey who was on hand to confirm ID’s we got to see a very early Sallow moth and a sure sign that Autumn is on its way.

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Sallow showing off the colours which highlight it as an Autumn moth

Photo Credit: Ashley Beolens Flickr via Compfight cc

Once again the usual video highlight for the post is missing due to ongoing technical issues so I leave you with a picture from a recent Breckland outing which gave opportunities to capture one of the villages usually shy and elusive residents.

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Muntjac one of the areas most common deer

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.

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.

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.

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.

Birding highlights Home and Very away


With August coming to and end and summer migrants hot footing it to the continent and beyond it was time for the editorial team to take to the air and head south if not for the winter then at least some extended Summer Sun. With the feeders locally topped up for the birds we headed off for Spain and Sunny Malaga. This was a non birding trip but having viewed my urban namesakes video I was hopeful of some pleasant treats.

If you have time to watch the video you will see it has plenty to offer and if you haven’t here is what we saw. The most obvious bird whether you are at the beach or walking the city streets is the monk parakeet which exists in the UK in only a tiny corner of dockland London and is persecuted as potentially dangerous due to its habit of building large communal stick nests. However down town Malaga doesn’t appear to have collapsed and the parakeets are an attractive alternative to pigeons bringing a smile to all with their comedy antics.

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Parakeets and pigeons

What appeared to me to be one of the best spots for a chance to photograph birds was the walk up the slopes high above the city to the ancient Gibralfaro Castle and after a long climb I was rewarded with a view of a bird I have missed seeing in the UK this summer flitting about the Moorish ornamental gardens a spotted flycatcher.

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Summer visitor. A spotted flycatcher

Next was another bird found in the UK but not one we will be seeing anytime soon in Hethersett as it is restricted in this country to small pockets of Scotland. A small fountain gave the opportunity for my 9 year old assistant to spot the bird taking on water in the sunshine of mid day and me to catch it on a quick photo.

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Distinctive member of the tit family , a crested tit.

Malaga had a few other UK birds on show in the form of collared doves  and house sparrows along with some subtly different locals such as spotless starlings and yellow legged gulls. Perhaps the most special having lost them recently in the UK where the common swifts. They would fly every evening over Malaga’s Ancient bullring and come to rest on the surrounding apartments occasionally calling as they settled to sleep in the fading sunset.

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Bullring, great for swifts but not so great for bulls…..

Having returned home it was time to check out the local changes and a quick walk around Wong farm produced what maybe its last summer swallow which was waiting for me to arrive on the telephone wires only to fly off south on my arrival and not return. A couple of house martins appeared soon after to harass a female kestrel which soared over the stable buildings. As I walked round the area disturbing the ever present wood pigeons I was also treated to a summer serenade by two singing blackcaps which may or may not leave with the other summer visitors. I also managed to photographically catch up with a new butterfly for the patch.

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Pretty but fast flying little butterfly a Small Copper.

My Webs visit on the same day hinted at the season to come as the migrants come and go with the first two wigeon arriving back from Northern Europe and a steady build up of coots on the mere. Two lesser black backed gulls also dropped in for a bath and they and numerous other gulls are now to be seen regularly in the fields around the village as they are ploughed and harrowed. The video for the post having arrived early leaves two final photos from my photographic hide which the birds and animals are starting to get used to and should provide some good photos in the future.

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A great tit which is a bird I was expecting

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A marsh tit a pleasant local surprise.

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