winter owls and other magic moments.


This week has seen me brave the biting winds and winter cold to get out in some wildlife friendly farmland locally to check on the winter visitors. As I set out, on a fresh wintry morning I wished I’d remembered my woolly hat. I very soon forgot the inconvenience and was lost in wonder as my first bird was a hunting barn owl quartering a field just in front of me.

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The silent hunting Barn owl

Photo Credit: Simon Stobart Flickr via Compfight cc

Soon after my barn owl and in amongst the expected crows. rooks and jackdaws came the next surprise as a single skylark flying up from some winter stubble heralding a further dozen which flew up and then washed away with the wind. A little further on in the lea of an overgrown farm garden and feeding on a winter seed patch another flock this time of chaffinches bobbed backwards and forwards in the wind,

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Difficult not to love a flock of chaffinch 

Whilst I watched the chaffinch busy in their search for seeds there were a few fieldfare over head, The recent mixed weather seems to be keeping these winter thrushes on the move and you never know if you will see a hundred or two or three. Recent flocks seem to be shadowed by small charms of goldfinches with anything up to thirty in tow. Fortunately in the cold I managed to blag a lift back to my car with a  local who apologized for not  mentioning a few days before, the short eared owl which had been where I had watched the barn owl.

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Short Eared owl hunting

Photo Credit: Simon Stobart Flickr via Compfight cc

The short eared owl, a good candidate for my favourite owl, is rarely seen inland but up to four have been previously seen together hunting in winter south of Norwich but I guess I will have to wait to add it to the Birds of Hethersett. This posts video comes from the local badger sett which has been very active recently and judging by the video should have cubs in the new year.

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Summers End


August presses towards September with its usual quiet birding as the post breeding birds moult and hide out of sight and generally lay quiet. The garden is often full of squeaky youngsters including great tits, coal tits, blue tits and long-tailed tits and are joined by the occasional young robin or blackbird. The skies seem strangely empty after the last screaming swift was seen over the village on the 11th August.

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Scruffy young robin typical visitor at this time of year

This is the best time to pick out swallows and house martins all around the village but only as stray birds head inexorably south to their wintering grounds in Africa. There is still a chance to see swallows and house martins locally with Wong farm and the Around the Wong walk being good for swallows filling the wires with waiting birds. This weekend a trip to the Bell PH at Marlingford produced fine ginger beer , house martins still visiting nests and soaring buzzards overhead so also a good spot to visit.

The Bell Public House sign

Perfect spot for Lunch with house martins.

An August visit to my local WEBS site also produced a late surprise for summer in terms of another visitor who should soon be heading back to warmer climes. I had hoped for a migrant sandpiper or other wader but none were about so I set to scanning the lake for other birds. There were plenty of young black headed gulls some still slightly downy. A grey heron stalked the edge of the reeds no longer considered a threat by previously anxious Gull parents. A few cormorants had returned after the gulls had become less quarrelsome and sat drying themselves on the edge of the island. As I watched them a delicate white bird flew past and revealed itself as one of this years common tern nestlings now fully grown.  Presumably as all the others have flow including its siblings and parents it will be finding its way to the coasts of Africa on its own or with friend it meets along the way.

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Echos of July with Common tern feeding young bird.

Photo Credit: Michele Lamberti Flickr via Compfight cc

The first of this posts video offerings was taken of a night time visitor near the local badger sett. This little wood mouse is one of a number who have taken advantage of food left primarily for the birds.

The second video was taken in the same spot. It is my first of one of the regular night time callers around the woods, a tawny owl caught in the rain clearly hoping for a wood mouse to make itself known.

 

Ladybelt Country Park


During nature wanderings in the last couple of weeks I finally discovered the hidden oasis that is Ladybelt, 21 hectares of reclaimed gravel and sand workings . The site is only a few miles from Hethersett at Ketteringham but has eluded me for years and looks from the road like a private drive to a gravel works which of course it still is in part.

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Site sign giving you all the facts and some suggested paths.

The carpark to the site is set in a predominantly pine wood and was ringing with the calls of coal tits despite it being the quiet part of the birding year. I imagine it would be very noisy in spring. The wood is full of bat and bird boxes and on my first evening visit it was not difficult to spot pipistrelle bats hunting through the trees.

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Coal tit one of the parks year round occupants.

One of the most obvious birds at this time of year as I entered the 14 hectares of open grassland was the green woodpeckers which clearly thrive and called and flew backwards and forwards with their characteristic bounding flight. In summer the signage promises singing skylarks but the only obvious singers were a few wren and robins and a delightful flock of linnet. Having checked the collective name for a group of linnets it is apparently a parcel of linnets so I will probably stick to a small flock.

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Linnet, one of a ‘parcel’

At the far end of the park is a wooded area which is home to an old but lovingly refurbished Ice house. Presumably this once had a job to do for a local manor but I could not find anything out about its history. The area around it was  full of blue and great tits and the occasional crow and woodpigeon. During the winter the cool dark recesses  of the ice house provide a hibernation spot for Daubenton’s bats.

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Ice House with keen 8 year old explorer in the way.

Working our way back across the meadows we were treated to a group of house martins  (collective noun a circlage) and swallows (collective noun a kettle) wheeling around the quarry buildings. They were joined by a couple of swifts which I thought would be the last I would see this year, however three more appeared over the village on the 24th which is very late but again a delight as a late summer spectacle. Also on the meadow was a ghost butterfly which delighted my young companion as it fluttered in front of us in the evening light.

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Meadow brown a washed out version of its self from earlier in the year. A ghost of summer past.

Our walk ended whilst still light with the call of tawny owls from the woods heralding the onset of Autumn and their breeding season. I had intended to bring the first ever aerial video of the park as a climax to this post however it turns out that flying a drone is not that easy and turning the video on even more tricky for the novice pilot so instead I leave you with photo of a suitably unimpressed tawny owl.

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Wise old tawny owl as taken by foolish drone operator.