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

 

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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

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.

Birding highlights Home and Very away


With August coming to and end and summer migrants hot footing it to the continent and beyond it was time for the editorial team to take to the air and head south if not for the winter then at least some extended Summer Sun. With the feeders locally topped up for the birds we headed off for Spain and Sunny Malaga. This was a non birding trip but having viewed my urban namesakes video I was hopeful of some pleasant treats.

If you have time to watch the video you will see it has plenty to offer and if you haven’t here is what we saw. The most obvious bird whether you are at the beach or walking the city streets is the monk parakeet which exists in the UK in only a tiny corner of dockland London and is persecuted as potentially dangerous due to its habit of building large communal stick nests. However down town Malaga doesn’t appear to have collapsed and the parakeets are an attractive alternative to pigeons bringing a smile to all with their comedy antics.

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Parakeets and pigeons

What appeared to me to be one of the best spots for a chance to photograph birds was the walk up the slopes high above the city to the ancient Gibralfaro Castle and after a long climb I was rewarded with a view of a bird I have missed seeing in the UK this summer flitting about the Moorish ornamental gardens a spotted flycatcher.

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Summer visitor. A spotted flycatcher

Next was another bird found in the UK but not one we will be seeing anytime soon in Hethersett as it is restricted in this country to small pockets of Scotland. A small fountain gave the opportunity for my 9 year old assistant to spot the bird taking on water in the sunshine of mid day and me to catch it on a quick photo.

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Distinctive member of the tit family , a crested tit.

Malaga had a few other UK birds on show in the form of collared doves  and house sparrows along with some subtly different locals such as spotless starlings and yellow legged gulls. Perhaps the most special having lost them recently in the UK where the common swifts. They would fly every evening over Malaga’s Ancient bullring and come to rest on the surrounding apartments occasionally calling as they settled to sleep in the fading sunset.

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Bullring, great for swifts but not so great for bulls…..

Having returned home it was time to check out the local changes and a quick walk around Wong farm produced what maybe its last summer swallow which was waiting for me to arrive on the telephone wires only to fly off south on my arrival and not return. A couple of house martins appeared soon after to harass a female kestrel which soared over the stable buildings. As I walked round the area disturbing the ever present wood pigeons I was also treated to a summer serenade by two singing blackcaps which may or may not leave with the other summer visitors. I also managed to photographically catch up with a new butterfly for the patch.

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Pretty but fast flying little butterfly a Small Copper.

My Webs visit on the same day hinted at the season to come as the migrants come and go with the first two wigeon arriving back from Northern Europe and a steady build up of coots on the mere. Two lesser black backed gulls also dropped in for a bath and they and numerous other gulls are now to be seen regularly in the fields around the village as they are ploughed and harrowed. The video for the post having arrived early leaves two final photos from my photographic hide which the birds and animals are starting to get used to and should provide some good photos in the future.

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A great tit which is a bird I was expecting

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A marsh tit a pleasant local surprise.

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.

 

Wild July Highlights


Wild June ended with some final survey work around the village and I had the assistance of my usual 9 year old accomplice. The ripening winter wheat had brought in some serious woodpigeon numbers with one flock of 150 birds in amongst the singing skylarks and yellow hammers. It wasn’t the birds that most pleased my assistant though it was the animals with a foxy pair of red ears and tail bouncing through the golden wheat a few yards away and then a little further on several brown hares carried out some chasing about in a vaguely kind of mad march way.

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Poor cropped phone shot I call ‘9 year old in the sun with hares’

We kicked off Wild July with some badger watching in the evenings at the local sett and whilst early visit produced little by the way of badger there were plenty of young tawny owls calling and flying overhead giving good views and the late evening produced singing songthrush which fed in front of us oblivious to our presence and robins a regular blackcap and an assortment of crows and pheasants.

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Evening songster.

We gave the badger watching a break for a few days and I left the hide flaps slightly open in case the badgers needed to get used to this. On our return My assistant soon pointed out that this had let in some eight legged guests which she didn’t approve of. With them evicted we settled down listening to the local buzzards calling above us and a persistent wasp trying to get into the tent. Eventually I worked out that its persistence and the unmistakable sound of wasp nest building meant we had other guests and we left sharpish.

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Not sure how we missed this creation a few foot above us for the best part of 15 minutes

The unexpected occupant were disposed of which was unfortunate for them and I felt slightly guilty having got the chance of a close look at their truly amazing handiwork.

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Cant failed to be amazed at the quality of this built my mouth using chewed up wood in the dark

Highlights in the village itself have definitely included a couple of additions to the  ‘garden list’ in the form of soaring kites and buzzards and during this months WEBS counts my assitant was pleased with the following find which I believe are both buzzard feathers.

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Buzzard feathers (I believe)

Videos for this post comprise a quick quiz and answer pair. Whilst visiting badger setts in the evening there are always rustles and spooky noises. Possibly the one that made me jump the most was the woodmouse that ran around my feet whilst sitting in the hide. But have a listen to this which was a regular caller in the dark on route to the hide.

This is the culprit wandering through our view from the hide earlier in the year.