Quail and other June highlights


June in the village has mostly been rainy as far as I can tell in between working. I now have something akin to a jungle in the back garden and there may well be some birds in there but they are quite difficult to locate. Fly over birds though have been quite spectacular with a  red kite, a buzzard and also a  common tern .

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Record shot of the latest garden tick. Flyover Red Kite

The red kite also made a highlight of my last BBS survey of the year with a single bird low over head as I completed my Wymondham square. Alas this was the only real highlight as continued urbanisation steadily removes the wild spaces and the associated birdlife. The weather hasnt been bothering the ducks on my WEBS surveys and there have been a string of successes with gadwall, mallard and shoveller all presenting broods along with young great crested grebe, egyptian and canada geese, lapwings and oystercatchers.

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Egyptian geese with young

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Lots of mallard babies this year

Away from the ducks the wet weather has probably caused some havoc with young lives a sudden rise in water levels wiped out the majority of this years local common tern population and will have made life difficult for insect eaters especially the likes of swallows and swifts. I have been following the life of a hole in a tree this spring and after some nuthatches were driven out a pair of great spotted woodpeckers they have raise a brood with no illeffects from the weather.

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Ready to go young great spotted woodpecker

Earlier in the week I went out primarily to check some of my local WEBS sites for bats which had been out foraging most evenings and I was rewarded with three types of Pipestrelle and a noctule bats before I became distracted by a calling bird. New bird calls are always exciting and instantly leap out as unusual when you are so used to listening to the commoner species when surveying. So the Wet my lips call of a singing Quail never heard before other than on an ap was one of these special events.

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Another Great Spotted woodpecker. Damp mother caught in the recent rain. No bats or quail as they are tricky to photograph at dusk

Now the chance of a once in a lifetime sighting of a quail drew me back to my WEBS site the next morning and I started out close to where I had heard the bird the night before and took in a count of the usual species of moorhen, grey heron, mallard and kingfishers which darted backwards and  forwards  with piping calls. I was also treated to a couple of pairs of breeding reed bunting which I hadn’t previously seen in the area.

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Moorhen not my target species just one of the locals

Quail are migrant birds flying in from Africa every year (click here for more details) and they are notoriously difficult to locate throwing their call and being small and brown hiding in long grass so it was no surprise that it took two and a half hours of patient tracking and then waiting before I managed to get a glimpse of the bird when he briefly came out into the open. Alas a singing bird in June almost certainly means no mate but perhaps next year although they have not been recorded locally in living memory.

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No quail again as he was too quick, but a very pleasant bee orchid from the quail field.

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No still no quail but one of sevral painted lady butterflies another African migrant fromthe Quail field and cropping up around the village

 

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.

 

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.

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.

RSPB Lakenheath Fen


With July drawing to a close the night of the RSPB’s big wild sleep out was fast approaching. This a once a year opportunity to visit one of many RSPB reserves for an overnight visit and experience the after dark magic of the reserves as well as the usual day time stuff. The weekend before I had taken another annual trip to Brundall, on the broads which was a bit quiet with all the visiting warblers now silent and only a token handful of last swifts and a few swallows filling the sky. Something much bigger did give us a spectacular fly over though.

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The unmistakable sight and sound of a Lancaster bomber. (I wasn’t expecting that)

  The weekend of the sleepover approached and our places were booked at RSPB Lakenheath only some 50 minutes from home. With weeks of baking temperatures and still nights it was perfect for camping. Of course weather watchers will have spotted the only two windy rainy days for weeks fast approaching but we set off  undaunted. Tents were quickly pitched on sandy ground with the only obvious neighbours the very vocal green woodpeckers.

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Green woodpecker posing nicely (as opposed to the Lakenheath Birds).

Photo Credit: conrad_hanchett Flickr via Compfight cc

First on the agenda, post tent setting, was a quick trip round the reserve before any rain joined the winds. We were on the look out for the Lakenheath Big 5 which if memory serves me correctly are marsh harrier, bearded tit, bittern, crane and kingfisher. We saw none of these but were treated to some arial acrobatics from a hobby hawking for dragonflies.

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Scenic Lakenheath from one of several great vantage points

The viewpoint over joist fen is a great place to practice a little mindfulness and wait for good things to turn up and so we did. The livelier of my two nine year old assistants for the weekend chased butterflies, dragonflies, crickets and anything else that crawled whilst the other assisted me in spotting the bird life.

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Ruddy darter dragonfly trying to avoid being caught by hobby and my assistants.

There were the usual collection of moorhens and coots feeding young accompanied by some drab mallards. There were arial flyovers by little egrets and black-headed gulls but no sign of the big five although bitterns had been seen during the week. Next on the tour was the photographic hide which was new to me and a welcome shade from the early sunshine.

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The photographic Hide with a couple of keen occupiers

The hide looks promising for winter and there had been some early use and close ups of water rail but our midday visitors were young blue and great tits.

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Young great tit in the mid day sun

The evening entertainment after an afternoon of bug hunting and watching the fish in the visitors centre was to be dusk walks with bats and barn owls. The barn owls did put in an appearance quartering the marshes if a little delayed bu t the planned bat detecting was thwarted by heavy rain showers. A feast of marshmallows and hot chocolate by the camp fire was fine with my assistants after the rain had passed and they  have detected enough bats previously not to be disappointed. A dusk hobby and views of the late waders and other waterbirds completed a good day and the rain did not try to hard to keep us awake.

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Garden Tiger Moth one of my favourites.

Photo Credit: Nick Dobbs Flickr via Compfight cc

The next morning after a hearty breakfast was filled with pond dipping and moth traps with a good variety of crowd pleasers including my favourite the tiger moth. Having been to engaged to get the camera out I opted instead for some butterfly action which was tricky in the high winds. Despite the rain dampening some activities the weekend was enjoyed by all in no small part to the enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff.

DSC_0060.JPGSlightly worn Red Admiral enjoying the buddleia by the visitors centre.

The  week saw the last of the village swifts disappearing as migration gets under way and we already start to look for Autumn on the horizon. Several mini migrant explosions have already started to occur and I found an opportunity to dash out to Great Yarmouth to check out a number of pied flycatchers that dropped into the cemetery. Alas my late dash was only good enough for the briefest glimpse of a female and certainly not the classic view of the male bird shown below.

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Male pied flycatcher

Photo Credit: Simon Stobart Flickr via Compfight cc

In non avian related news the editor in chief of Hethersett Birdlife was caught on camera this week on another splendid pied creation so look out for him around the village and at local birding hot-spots.

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Hethersett Birdlife gains some new wheels for local birding trips.

Video for the post comes from the Badger sett and my photographic hide and is in keeping with the black and white theme for the latter part of the post.

Summer Friends


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

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Common Tern with a light Lunch.

Photo Credit: Kate E Sutherland Flickr via Compfight cc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Splendid starling now replaced by screaming swifts overhead.

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

 

If you go down to the woods…


Early in the week I bumped into the guardian of the villages long term breeding barn owls but learnt that they have not been seen for several weeks which is an ill omen as their breeding season starts in earnest anytime soon. There have been plenty of tawny owls but the ghostly white birds are missing so let us know on twitter if you see them locally.

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Wise old brown. Tawny Owl.

A recent sighting which was more unusual in the village and in the same spot as the missing owls was a dog fox so look out for him and tweet any sightings to the usual address. Like the fox I decided to go nocturnal and recover an outstanding trail camera which could be used to monitor for missing owls. I put on my warmest stealth gear as the camera was at a badger sett and I hoped I might catch them out and about. I was aiming for the ninja look but probably ended up a bit more kung fu panda than I had hoped for.

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Fantastic new village resident. Dog fox.

On leaving the west side of the village I was serenaded by the last songsters of the evening the robin and the song thrush and shortly afterwards at least three separate male tawny owls were vying for mates. I had hoped to catch a picture of one but they are very good at making themselves scare as you approach and I had only one brief glimpse allevening as I caught one flying bird unawares. Arriving at the badger sett I gave up all hope of stealth as a I fell over a fallen tree spooking a nearby pheasant which in turn sent up a few dozen wood pigeons with a chorus of clapping wings

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cock pheasant possibly after a disturbed nights sleep

Having returned home I set about viewing the videos taken with some trepidation as the sett appeared quite undisturbed and lacking insigns of life when I had put the camera out.  I needn’t have worried as I was soon watching a badger.

And obviously not just the one badger, I was entranced as I watched them going about their daily tasks which appeared to be mostly scratching and making their beds. All of best clips are  available on the youtube channel (click here)   I have included another highlight which was of a young Roe stag with his new antlers in velvet.

I intend to get back out in the woods soon but next time in the daylight as I and my eight year old picked out the herald of spring that is the chiffchaff today whilst visiting Pensthorpe so it is time to start looking and listening for them locally.

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Returning from Africa just to delight us with their chifchaff ing.

 

 

Hethersett, Great Melton and Marlingford a years highlights.


In previous years I have counted the different species seen around the village and got a reasonable 65 in 2015 and an improved 69 in 2016. This year with my efforts spread around the local area I didn’t count my local total religiously, just got them all listed on bird track and tallied them up at the end of the year. Perhaps the highlight this year was a chance to watch the local barn owls up close without worrying about counting them.

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This years favourite, the barn owl.

So what did I see with no pressure to get the numbers in well here they are in alphabetic order:

Barn owl, barnacle goose, black headed gull, blackbird, blackcap, blue tit, bullfinch, buzzard, canada goose, carrion crow, chaffinch, chiffchaff, coal tit, collared dove, common gull, common tern, coot, cormorant, dunnock, egyptian goose, fieldfare, gadwall, goldcrest, goldfinch, great tit, green woodpecker, greenfinch, grey heron, greylag goose, herring gull, house martin, house sparrow, jackdaw, Jay, kestrel, kingfisher, lesser black-backed gull, lesser whitethroat, linnet, little egret, little owl, long-tailed tit, magpie, mallard, mistle thrush, moorhen, mute swan, nuthatch,

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Garden favourite, the nuthatch.

oystercatcher, pheasant, pied wagtail, redwing, red kite,  robin, feral pigeon, rook, skylark, song thrush, sparrow hawk, starling, stock dove, swallow, swift, tawny owl, tree creeper,wigeon, whitethroat, woodpigeon, wren, and yellow hammer. So to save you counting, 71 species. It appears that not concentrating has worked wonders or perhaps a better knowledge of the area built up over time.

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First time recorded on patch, this year the elegant Little Egret

The year of birding ended with a trip to nearby Algarsthorpe Marshes to carry out the last WEBS survey of the year. The recent heavy rains had made the local rivers swell but I wasn’t expecting quite how much. The marshes occasionally get a bit of a flood but tend to still stay relatively green but not so this week.

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Where there were fields there are lots of birding opportunities for a man with a telescope. 

Ably assisted by my eight year old note taker we soon whizzed through the usual ducks and geese and 90 black headed gulls which the floods had brought in. New on this stretch of marsh were shoveler, tufted duck and a pair of common sandpipers. Ordinarily they might have been hiding amongst the river banks and tufts of grass but with the floods there was nowhere to hide.

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Shoveler ducks enjoying the floods.

This year has seen the first year of camera traps spread around the village as well as Great Melton and Marlingford.Whilst they have caught some birds including my favourite a woodcock. They have primarily recorded mammals so in the tradition of this post here they are.

Badger, field vole, fox, grey squirrel, hedgehog, muntjac deer, polecat, brown rat and roe deer. The only two I have seen locally but not captured are red deer and otter so a couple of targets for next year in amongst other nature filled wanderings.

Final video of the year is of my favourite find of the year the local badger sett.