Pre Christmas presents


The Christmas lights are up in arguably the most festive village in the UK and hopefully they are not putting migrating birds off as they fly over. Recently some of the local lakes and my WEBS sites have been hosting some special guests which have include not one but three Great white egrets and a touch down of some Brent geese. The Brent geese are residents of Northern Russia but winter on the Norfolk Coast and the wash so it is a rare treat to see these birds even briefly inland as they stopped for a breather and a freshen up before heading off again.

49104397408_57a2bcfed1_o

Compact and dark the Brent goose easily distinguishable from most of the locals

Photo Credit: garrymoors Flickr via Compfight cc

Whilst the geese didn’t make it onto this months official counts I did have some welcome guests as I scanned the local lake. First up were the flocks of coots and winter ducks including tufted duck ,pochard and gadwall. After a while a small flock of wigeon drifted in and made their presence known with their wild whistling calls. Just as the dusk was threatening to end an already short day I got my first sight of a little grebe for the winter and as I watched it getting closer in the gloom a little egret ghosted past looking for somewhere to settle amongst the cormorants and the larger grey heron. The only birds noticeable by their absence were the winter teal which I think may now be spread out in all the flooded pools and woodland rather than on the usual lake.

DSC_0065

After the WEBS count I also had the opportunity on a morning that unusually wasn’t lashing down with torrential rain to wade through the mud and assist with some bird ringing. The nets were up before the dawn to see if we could collect as many of the roosting thrushes as they go up. Redwings soon made it into the nets to be rung and duly released unharmed along with a song thrush and a variety of blackbirds some local and some from northern Europe like the redwings. Perhaps the star bird however was another possible foreigner a mistle thrush clearly more bulky than his slender cousins and covered in spectacular upward pointing spots.

DSC_0012

Very Beautiful Mistle Thrush

Having got Youtube functioning again this posts video comes from some derelict pig sheds which are occasionally home to one of the local barn owls. Early fuzzy camera shots have included woodmice a weasel and a variety of non owl shaped avian visitors two of whom  star this week. Who knows  maybe some owl magic next time.

Patch Gold


As October slips away I have made as many attempts as possible to get out and enjoy local birding highlights and have managed to do so alongside a local bird ringer. The opportunity to see even the common birds very close up even briefly is not to be missed and gives benefits outside of the scientific ones . The first foray took place near one my local  WEBS sites and soon produced a range of small wild wonders with snappy blue tits, grumpy wrens and gorgeous goldcrests.

DSC_0016

Only close up do you get to see the orange hues that splits the male from the female goldcrest

As well as the opportunity to see the birds close up there is also the chance to tell with some certainty if they are this years birds and get an idea of how good a breeding season it has been and it appeared to have been a good one. In amongst the youngsters were not just blue tits and great tits but also a summer special a blackcap made its way into the gentle embrace of the mist nets before being rung measured and set free.

DSC_0019.JPG

Keeping an eye on proceedings and out of the nets and adult great tit

Winter visitors were also captured and alongside noisy blackbirds and a songthrush were a number of redwings part of last weeks winter return and invasion, all feeding up on the berry laden bushes and hedgerows. Out of the nets I was also pleased to see a flock of 60 teal  and a marsh tit which has been eluding me for a couple of months.

DSC_0089

relocated Marsh tit

Closer to home with some ringing just off the west Hethersett loop at Cedar grange we got close and personal with record numbers of reed bunting and plenty of yellow hammer. The flocks of birds were being targetted by a sparrowhawk and an opportunistic buzzard but another raptor grabbed my attention being mobbed by starlings and a crow and a new record for the village as a short eared owl circled and then flew off south Esat.

DSC_0013 (2)

Here in all his glory the Hethersett  Short eared owl

It is fair to say my snatched record shot doesn’t do this far travelling  hunter justice so below is a more photgenic version of this rare village visitor.

48844042193_6b49b626c5_o.jpg

Photo Credit: fletchlewista2 Flickr via Compfight cc

This post’s video comes from my last working trailcam which has fortunately been supplemented by a couple of new Crenova cameras so the regular updates on the you tube site should start to pick up again with a range of new wildlife offerings. I had hoped to get some grey partridges this time out but got these red legged ones instead.

Autumn surprises


It is over a week ago that a solitary swift drifted south across my garden marking the last of his kind until next summer for me. Always a sad and sudden end to summer days and this week I have watched swallows and housemartins fattening up on the wing as they follow behind and there were still a couple lingering at Marlingford today but none in Hethersett that I have seen.

48034772111_85d8d9e55e_o.jpg

Going but not forgotten Housemartin heading south.

Photo Credit: Tim Melling Flickr via Compfight cc

The local lakes are starting to fill with early winter visitors, if not with water and my most recent WEBS count saw the return of our smallest duck the teal in good numbers along with wintering flocks of lapwings and tufted ducks. Also present on the islands left larger than normal by the low water levels were 220 roosting greylag geese and making them look a little smaller a great black-backed gull preening himself and keeping an eye on the young moorhens as potential snacks.

moorhen chick (4)

Young Moorhen or Potential Gull food.

 

Whilst Autumn is rolling in some local highlights have included some special birds that tend to make headlines in Spring when they are easiest to see and hear. Lesser spotted woodpeckers usually draw a crowd and the latest local spot that can cope with a few extra well behaved birdwatchers is Ladybelt Country Park. The park which has featured previously on this blog has its own regularly updated wildlife sightings blog which can be accessed (HERE) if you want to read more about the park and its birds.  

Lady belt runs with the help of volunteers as does the Hethersett county wildlife site at Beckhithe Meadow which saw some frantic activity clearing ponds and bramble on the last weekend of August with an overnight moth trap being examined before any work was done. Thanks to Matt Casey who was on hand to confirm ID’s we got to see a very early Sallow moth and a sure sign that Autumn is on its way.

12437916303_8027642a3d_o

Sallow showing off the colours which highlight it as an Autumn moth

Photo Credit: Ashley Beolens Flickr via Compfight cc

Once again the usual video highlight for the post is missing due to ongoing technical issues so I leave you with a picture from a recent Breckland outing which gave opportunities to capture one of the villages usually shy and elusive residents.

DSC_0032

Muntjac one of the areas most common deer

August Tonics.


August is with us and it is a time when birds become harder to find with many starting to moult and hide away skulking in the hedgerows. Now you need to get up with the lark for the best chance to catch up with our feathered friends as they are more active at the break of day. This week I took a number of young assistants for a camp out on Beckhithe Meadow to make the most of the dawn activity as well as the nocturnal stuff. Our first surprise was no however a bird but a very striking spider.

Wasp Spider.JPG

Wasp spider unmistakeable but harmless.

The wasp spider is a relative newcomer to the UK and is spreading slowly North but predominantly found in the South of the country. Male wasp spiders are smaller than this female and have to tread carefully around their mate choosing only to mate when she is emerging into adult form and her fangs are hopefully too soft to eat him. After the spider we sat down to campfire and marshmallows with an evening serenade of tawny owls and little owls.

DSC_0081.JPG

Sleepy Tawny Owl presumably having sung us to sleep and woken us at about 5.00 am

In the morning the local birds were all active moving from tree to tree and around the meadow as they found their breakfast. The most common bird was not the expected Village classic the woodpigeon but the Goldfinch with a charm of 30 flitting around the meadow and feeding on thistle down. Other finches were well represented with linnets and bullfinches although the latter stayed out of sight most of the time.

DSC_0006 (2)

Goldfinch hiding on the tree tops between feeding.

Some of the summer visitors were on show with families of whitethroats and calling chiffchaff amongst the trees. In one of the large oaks a robin sang and a songthrush sunbathed. Flocks of blue, great and long-tailed tits foraged and a great spotted woodpecker flew in to the tree tops and also foraged with them appearing not to be a threat  to them now they are all mobile and grown up.

DSC_0044

female great spotted woodpecker whose nestling snatching is over for another year.

As well as some morning meadow watching I have also carried out this months WEBS surveys locally and the highlights have been close up views of hunting kingfishers but the images of those will be mine alone as I hadnt taken the camera. I had hoped pehaps to see a passage wader or two but only a single common sandpiper showed itself. in fact there was very little to show at all with no ducks or geese other than a couple of sleeping Egyptian geese.

48312761941_c3a2ef63b3_o

The kingfisher photo I might have taken had my camera been handy.

Photo Credit: jean-lucfoucret Flickr via Compfight cc

With the many birds  missing (although I did later find 180 missing lapwing on some local fields) I thought I would try my hand at Identifying some flowers which are much easier to see in August. My ID’s are beginners so if they are wrong let me know and I can get them right next time.

Herb Robert

Herb Robert

Arguably the prettiest little flower was what I believe is herb Robert used traditionally to treat headaches, nosebleeds and as a tonic for a stomach upset as well as an antiseptic and a mosquito repellent.

Agrimony.JPG

Agrimony

This delicate stem of flowers if I have correctly ID’d is agrimony a herb apparently ideal for healing musket wounds and warding of witchcraft. Perhaps its most useful folklore property is that if placed under the pillow of a sleeping person they will not wake up until it is removed. Worth remembering for new parents I imagine.

Knapweed

Knapweed

My final offering of  the post is knapweed which is a very robust yet attractive flower with a variety of medicinal uses including assisting with bruises, sores, scabs and sore throats. According to folklore a woman could also place it in her blouse and use it to detect the man of her dreams when its petals opened. Moral for August is if you fail to see the birds, have a look and see what else is lurking that may do you some good.

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 .

DSC_0015 (4)

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.

DSC_0004 (2).JPG

Egyptian geese with young

DSC_0034 (2).JPG

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.

DSC_0012 (3)

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.

DSC_0004 (2)

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.

DSC_0013.JPG

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.

DSC_0005 (3)

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

DSC_0003

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

 

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.

DSC_0002 (3)

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,

DSC_0009

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.

DSC_0022 (2).JPG

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.

DSC_0013 (2)

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.

37023922764_24604592d9_o.jpg

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.

DSC_0002 (2).JPG

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.

DSC_0022

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.

DSC_0004 (3)

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

dsc_0154

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.

linnets 15.12.18

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.

32788959738_73a42edea0_o.jpg

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.

canada goose

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.

IMG_0250

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.

DSC_0098.JPG

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.

DSC_0113

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.

DSC_0090.JPG

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.

DSC_0017.JPG

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.

DSC_0024.JPG

A great tit which is a bird I was expecting

DSC_0027

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.

Young Robin.JPG

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.

9892010603_0ca128fda3_o

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.