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.

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Giant in Spring


I have procrastinated on this latest post as I was hoping to announce the first of the spring migrants, primarily the new herald of Spring the chiffchaff. Whilst they have been heard along with whitethroat not to far away in Marlingford they have still to put in an appearance locally. As I ran out this evening I did have the unexpected pleasure of hearing another spring returnee with a calling Oystercatcher over New Road.

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Oystercatcher the noisy face of spring one to look out for over the village

Pairs of Oystercatchers have also livened up this months WEBS counts on both my sites and the counts have highlighted the transition of the seasons with the noisy piping of the pied pipers set against the quiet whistles of the few remaining winter wigeon also present on the WEBS counts. Fluctuating water levels have also resulted in lots of gulls on the counts with the usual culprits in the form of black headed, lesser black backed and herring gulls along with pleasingly high counts of the less common, common gull.

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The not so common Common Gull.

One of my WEBS counts also produced in quick succession red kite great white egret and three little egrets. Strange to think that a couple of decades ago this would probably have been three lifers for me just shows what some man made introduction and global warming can achieve….

Recently I have also done a little travelling with my 9 year old assistant and we realised the other day that neither of us had knowingly seen the worlds tallest tree so a quick google and trip saw us Head for far flung Wymondham to check out the majesty of the Giant Redwood.

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Towering Redwood at the junction of Silfield Road and Silfield Street

My companion was a little disappointed that we couldn’t drive through a tunnel dug out of the base of the tree but understood that this was no longer the done thing as its not entirely good for the tree. Following the tree our trip headed out to the far East and great Yarmouth. After the lure of  Mediterranean gulls and tumbling two pence pieces was satisfied we went out to Breydon water to take in the high tide spectacle and watched the thousands of gulls waders and wildfowl waiting patiently for the turn of the tide. If I had to pick a favourite it was probably the pintail quietly and elegantly feeding under screaming redshank making up for the lone one I had missed earlier in the winter locally.

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Ever elegant pintail

This post ends with a video from the BTO and partners as a reminder to those who might need it as to how to separate our impending spring warbler friends. I am also looking for sightings of any willow warblers locally as the last couple of years have been worryingly devoid of local records

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.

Winter birding home and away


There has been a delay since the last post but not this time due to distractions of a busy unrelenting modern world but due to the editorial team taking a well deserved break to relax amongst the wonders of a less modern world.

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Difficult not to be moved by the grandeur of ancient Rome

Keen eyed ornithologists will have noticed the soaring bird life in the photo above which has watched the ebb and flow of empires. The birds in the picture are yellow legged gulls and they were joined by other occasional UK birds in the form of monk parakeets and hooded crows as well as the staple feral pigeon.

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Close up and personal the yellow legged gull occasionally seen in Norfolk hotspots but not yet recorded in the birds of Hethersett.

Back on the local patch the winter weather has been interspersed with an occasional fine morning which has allowed some farmland survey work including some of the fields west of the village around Market Lane. My recent visit started with mammals as soon as I arrived in market lane with three of the local roe deer crossing the fields boldly as though without a care in the world. I kicked of near a steaming pile of compost and sitting on top was a skylark which took off and dragged up behind it the rest of a flock of 15 birds which made a good start.

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One of 15 beautiful skylarks

As I continued walking I soon started to pick up some first for the year including an early drumming great spotted woodpecker and a flock of siskin. I also saw a number of impressive flocks of woodpigeon including one of 400 birds no doubt including some continental birds brought across the North Sea by colder weather elsewhere.

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Winter visitor to the village a male siskin.

I picked up a couple of unexpected flocks of ducks over the fields including mallard and teal which had obviously been overnighting at some of the local fishing ponds. In the summer I had taken the same route and seen a number of brown hare but the bare patch of earth they had scampered across was now a winter seed crop with a host of feeding chaffinch and blackbirds. My walk ended to the sound of buzzards and a very healthy calling pair of marsh tits doubtless full of seed from my local feeding station. Last birds of the day were a fast moving flock of fluffed up long tailed tits and this is the best I could manage in terms of a photo.

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Earlier this week I did spend half an hour at my feeding station hoping to get some close ups of the locals and managed the following in the soft afternoon light.

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Great tit fresh from feeding

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Hastily snatched shot of a Nuthatch new to the feeder

 Video for this post is from the BTO and partners and a reminder of how to tell your siskins from your serins should you need it.

 

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.