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.

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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.

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.

 

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.

Fifty shades of Grey


It has been a very long time since the last blog post which included the last half of September which didn’t really seem to produce much locally in terms of bird life. Whilst the early Autumn migrants started coming in over the coast whenever the weather was kind to them all I saw of note was the very regular flyovers by grey herons and cormorants. The latter presumably heading out to Hethersett Hall lake to fish  and the herons drifting in at all times of day to terrorize the ponds of the village.

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Grey heron, arguably villain of the ponds but spectacular as they drop in around the village.

In the last week or so the Autumn birds are drifting in to the area in good numbers and the local tawny owls are certainly making themselves heard with the females twit-ing and the males woo wooing back at them,  The BTO have just opened their tawny owl survey so if you fancy  helping them click here to find out how.

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Tawny Owl the only UK owl to hoot.

I have been doing some some farmland surveying over the last week which has been very pleasant in the Autumn sunshine and one afternoon I took a couple of young assistants who needed stick to make brooms for forthcoming celebrations. As we approached the farm area we were treated with some very close views of the local Pheasants closely followed by some partridges. Normally I would expect to see a couple of pairs of red legged partridges running wild but these birds were in a full covey with more and more appearing out of the long grass and best of all they weren’t the usual fare.

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A record shot of 1 of 15 Grey partridge.

It was truly heartening to see these UK birds doing well locally as they are red listed bird in serious decline. The birds have done very well as most of the ‘covey’ were this years young and seem to have avoided the local goshawk, which fortunately appears to prefer wood pigeons which are definitely not red listed. We also got to see the first flocks of fieldfare and redwing fresh in from Northern Europe and the first small flock of wintering lapwing sitting it out with a flock of stock doves. Coming soon another Autumn post as local treats keep arriving and in the mean time this posts’ video of another local partridge eater caught out in the daylight.

 

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.