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.

November Daylight Highlights


With the days counting down fast to the longest night, actually getting some daylight and the daytime wildlife highlights is challenging for those like me with busy jobs. But getting out is worth its weight in gold to revive any flagging wellbeing. Last weekend saw an early rise to help set out the mist nets on Cedar Grange on the west of the village. This area is now perfect as a place to take in the sights and sounds of farmland birds worthy of yesteryear. Aside from an early singing robin there wasn’t much moving before the nets went up.

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Robin keen to get the early worm.

There was slight frost as the sun broke over the winter seed crop and lit up the Autumn oak trees and hedgerows and a lingering mist across the top of the millet stalks. slowly the small flocks of early linnets began to appear  from the surrounding trees and hedgerows followed by some fly over redwings and chuckling fieldfare. Very quickly the nets filled with other early risers, yellowhammers by the dozen , chaffinches, dunnocks, wrens and the special winter visitor the reed bunting.

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Male reed bunting starting to show his breeding colours

I also managed a similar expedition at nearby Great Melton which has another of the winter seed crops. Again the morning soon woke to the sounds of the early songsters with a robin singing its slightly mournful sub-song and he was quickly joined by singing flocks of linnets brought in by the seed crop. A quick scan of the treetops soon revealed plenty of other farmland birds also thriving including yellow hammer and reedbunting and also a strange white finch. On close examination this turned out to be a leuchistic linnet. Leuchism is similar to albinism but is not the same with birds showing feathers without pigment to a greater or lesser degree but not with other albino features such as pink eyes.

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Clearly bigger than a linnet, this is a leachistic red kite showing the added white feathers not present on a typical bird

Photo Credit: karen leah Flickr via Compfight cc

Whilst my white linnet stayed well out of camera range I shall have to make do with the photo above to show the effect and also to segway into my next stroll which took me even further afield to Marlingford where I carried out some wetland surveys. The wetland birds were a bit thin on the ground with a lonely little egret  and a calling kingfisher the highlights on a dimming afternoon until a pair of standard red kites spent half an hour calling and quartering above my head.

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Typical red kite and highlight of the shortest or darkest of days

Unfortunately there is no video treat for this post due to some annoying you tube glitch but check back next week as December sunny days have already filled up with some outstanding visits from winter guests and highlights.

Autumn walks and winter visitors


There can now be no doubt that Summer has been blown out on the back of various Atlantic Hurricanes. The village’s housemartin colony left last week and with them the warmer weather. There are still plenty of local birds who dont seem to mind the blustery and wet conditions and the local jackdaws as pictured below seem to enjoy playing in the gusty conditions across the village. At night the tawny owls are now starting to twit and twoo as their breeding season gets under way.

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Ever present Village Jackdaw  

 

With the summer gone I have been out on some of the local walks looking to the skies for winter visitors. In the gardens the blackbird and jay populations appear to be increasing, possibly already being added to by continental birds. Over on the West Hethersett Loop the winter seed crop is already attracting flocks of linnets and some yellowhammers  but no winter thrushes yet that I have seen.

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Plenty of fruit and berries locally for the winter blackbirds.

On Thursday I had a chance to take a BTO birdringer out to look at some of the local areas with loads of birds on show including one of my WEBS sites. It was a grey overcast afternoon again but as soon as we arrived on site there were small flocks of singing linnets and constant calling of Bullfinch and green woodpecker so plenty of colour amongst the grey. In the hedgerows wrens scolded and goldcrests piped their high pitch calls.

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Autumn goldcrest feeding up before the cold weather sets in.

Whilst checking out the local river and lake for the winter visiting ducks and  geese we heard a familiar and yet unfamiliar call overhead. I hadn’t heard it for months since early last spring  and soon in view were the callers, a dozen redwings. They were followed by other small flocks and signal winter is well on its way but reassuringly it will be full of new friends and old from the colder parts of Eastern Europe and Russia

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Redwings starting to fly over in their tens and hundreds.

Photo Credit: Svenni and his Icelandic birds. Flickr via Compfight cc

This morning a return to watch some actual birdringing with my very excited 10 year old assistant. We saw a haul of 35 birds of ten species including plenty of this years blue tits and great tits along with a song thrush, a couple of blackbirds, some wrens and some of those goldcrests. Perhaps most special was a female bullfinch as they are often heard rarely seen and a young chiffchaff  who will be over wintering in the UK instead of flying south with its parents.

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Commonest on the day and very feisty Blue tit complete with new ankle bling.

This posts video offering is of a couple of nocturnal visitors to the local patch but with recent reports of big cats in the area who knows what will be on the next post.

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

August Tonics.


August is with us and it is a time when birds become harder to find with many starting to moult and hide away skulking in the hedgerows. Now you need to get up with the lark for the best chance to catch up with our feathered friends as they are more active at the break of day. This week I took a number of young assistants for a camp out on Beckhithe Meadow to make the most of the dawn activity as well as the nocturnal stuff. Our first surprise was no however a bird but a very striking spider.

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Wasp spider unmistakeable but harmless.

The wasp spider is a relative newcomer to the UK and is spreading slowly North but predominantly found in the South of the country. Male wasp spiders are smaller than this female and have to tread carefully around their mate choosing only to mate when she is emerging into adult form and her fangs are hopefully too soft to eat him. After the spider we sat down to campfire and marshmallows with an evening serenade of tawny owls and little owls.

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Sleepy Tawny Owl presumably having sung us to sleep and woken us at about 5.00 am

In the morning the local birds were all active moving from tree to tree and around the meadow as they found their breakfast. The most common bird was not the expected Village classic the woodpigeon but the Goldfinch with a charm of 30 flitting around the meadow and feeding on thistle down. Other finches were well represented with linnets and bullfinches although the latter stayed out of sight most of the time.

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Goldfinch hiding on the tree tops between feeding.

Some of the summer visitors were on show with families of whitethroats and calling chiffchaff amongst the trees. In one of the large oaks a robin sang and a songthrush sunbathed. Flocks of blue, great and long-tailed tits foraged and a great spotted woodpecker flew in to the tree tops and also foraged with them appearing not to be a threat  to them now they are all mobile and grown up.

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female great spotted woodpecker whose nestling snatching is over for another year.

As well as some morning meadow watching I have also carried out this months WEBS surveys locally and the highlights have been close up views of hunting kingfishers but the images of those will be mine alone as I hadnt taken the camera. I had hoped pehaps to see a passage wader or two but only a single common sandpiper showed itself. in fact there was very little to show at all with no ducks or geese other than a couple of sleeping Egyptian geese.

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The kingfisher photo I might have taken had my camera been handy.

Photo Credit: jean-lucfoucret Flickr via Compfight cc

With the many birds  missing (although I did later find 180 missing lapwing on some local fields) I thought I would try my hand at Identifying some flowers which are much easier to see in August. My ID’s are beginners so if they are wrong let me know and I can get them right next time.

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Herb Robert

Arguably the prettiest little flower was what I believe is herb Robert used traditionally to treat headaches, nosebleeds and as a tonic for a stomach upset as well as an antiseptic and a mosquito repellent.

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Agrimony

This delicate stem of flowers if I have correctly ID’d is agrimony a herb apparently ideal for healing musket wounds and warding of witchcraft. Perhaps its most useful folklore property is that if placed under the pillow of a sleeping person they will not wake up until it is removed. Worth remembering for new parents I imagine.

Knapweed

Knapweed

My final offering of  the post is knapweed which is a very robust yet attractive flower with a variety of medicinal uses including assisting with bruises, sores, scabs and sore throats. According to folklore a woman could also place it in her blouse and use it to detect the man of her dreams when its petals opened. Moral for August is if you fail to see the birds, have a look and see what else is lurking that may do you some good.

Wood warbler and other July highlights


Wow where did July go? I was just getting used to keeping my new bird bath topped up during, the usual, hottest temperatures ever recorded and it is nearly over. The month has also brought out the usual annual avian highlight of seagull abuse and tales of eaten dogs in the national press. Fear not however villagers, whilst there more lesser blackbacked gulls are to be seen and heard at  this time of year none of them have been reported as eating dogs or small children.

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Lesser Blackbacked gull on the look out for a small canine snack

The hot weather has also meant that the local buzzards have again been spectacular over the village and drawn the usual attention from the local crows and last week I noticed them attracting mobs of swifts shadowing their activities. I cant belive that the buzzards present a threat to agile swifts but I guess the fact that they are a predator is enough to draw a reaction.

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Jet Black village Carrion Crow threatened by very little outside of Buzzards.

This months local surveying was done early, along with some assistance provided by myself and a number of hard working accomplices young and old at the county wildlife site at Beckhithe Meadow (Click HERE to read about the highlights of the latter). Out on the local lakes the last of the awaited broods of youngsters hit the water with young tufted ducks like crazy black pom poms out on the water with their parents whilst the common tern chicks had fledged and followed their parents begging for food,

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Proud father , Tufted duck.

Whilst out checking the ducks I bumped into one of the relatively trusted regulars who dropped into conversation that they had heard a wood warbler singing not far away but had not seen it for a few days. After my recent delight at hearing  a quail on the same patch I wasn’t going to be blessed with another rare singer so leave you with this video highlighting what is  one of my favourite songsters.

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.