Out with the old


Time for a look back at the highlights of 2019 locally and to look forward to something new. As WordPress users will be aware blogging for free has its limits and this site is close to those limits after a few years, so sighting updates from hereafter will appear on our sister site Wild Hethersett as well as the usual twitter feed. This site will be kept up to date, especially the ever popular bird walks and most who join us on the new site will notice very little change but in keeping with the new site the posts will often cover a slightly wider variety of nature than has been the case with this unashamed avian celebration.

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Reed Bunting the good news star of 2019

Photo Credit: Prank F Flickr via Compfight cc

So as is typical and fitting this is a look back at the village birds of 2019 and I will start with the above bird who is likely to star again in 2020. The reedbunting (1), the linnet  (2) and yellow hammer (3) have all done well this year and there are promising signs that good farming practices including winter seed planting are making a difference to these three stars. Anyone who has watched these wheeling about on Cedar grange this year will have also had the opportunity to watch alongside them our more typical fare of Gold finch (4) greenfinch (5) Chaffinch (6) dunnock (7) blue tit (8) coal tit (9) great tit and long-tailed tit (10).

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Long tailed tit arguably the cutest of the locals.

The hedgerows have also been home to a variety of birds alongside the fields including the wren (11), robin (12), blackbird (13)  song thrush (14) and mistle thrush (15). The latter two are notable at this time of year alongside the redwing (16) and fieldfare’s (17). The spring saw the hedgerows full too, of the usual summer visitors including the now regularly breeding lesser whitethroat (18) his commoner cousins the whitethroat  (19) chiffchaff (20) and blackcap (21). Worryingly this is the third year in a row during which the lilting tune willow warbler has been absent from the village treetops.

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Whitethroat still sing for us around the villages rural outskirts

Off course with all the songbirds there will be a few predators about which have included this year kestrel (22) sparrowhawk  (23) buzzard (24) and red kite (25) the latter is not much of a bird threat but one of the most impressive. Feeding on the fields and potential food for sparrow hawks have been loads of the villages most common sight wood pigeon (26) as well as their cousins stock doves (27) and collared doves (28). If I look back at garden memories from the year the most colourful are bullfinch (29) and great spotted woodpecker as well arguably  the villages smallest resident the goldcrest (30).

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Great spotted woodpecker always a garden favourite when they show.

Slightly smaller than the woodpecker but arguably as colourful the nuthatch (31)  is always a regular as is the less common and colourful treecreeper (31). More colour from the crows including jay (32)  and magpie (33) as well as their more sombre cousins the rook (34) carrion crow (35) and jackdaw (36). Plenty of the usual flyover activity with black headed gull (37) common gull (38) herring gull (39)  and lesser black-backed gull (40). There were some other fly over fishermen including grey heron (41) and the less common kingfisher (42) and for the first time of counting a new entry with a little egret (43).

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Little egret always a welcome garden tick.

Of course the real masters of the sky turned up in the summer with Swifts (44) house martins (45)  and swallow (46) with the latter noticeable by their general absence and lower numbers year on year. Other more unusual flyovers have included Egyptian geese   (47) mute swan (48) and mallards (49) . Greylag (50)  and barnacle geese (51) have joined their watery friends and out on the ponds and wet village fringes moorhen (52) and coot (53) have both been present with little grebe (54)  and gadwall (55) as usual at the Hall. No nocturnal flyovers of wigeon this year but did manage to hear some teal (56) last week.

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Teal a welcome flyover bird often found locally at this time of year

Other night time birds of course include the local owl population include the vocal tawny owls (57) and little owls (58) and briefly this year some barn owl (59) calling but unfortunately  no breeding barn owls for the second year running. Arguably the star bird in terms of unexpected was a daytime flyer was a rare local the  Short eared owl (60). So who have I missed from the list  pheasants at (61) have been frequenting the local fields but I have missed their cousins the partridges which have been close by in terms of red-legged and grey but missed by me. An other missed are the regular Canada geese which goes to show I haven’t been checking the local lakes as often as I have in the past drawn away by my more exciting WEBS areas. A large skein of pink footed geese was also missed by myself over the village in the last week or so.

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Canada goose still plentiful in the area but missed by me in and around the village.

The ever present and nearly over looked starling (62)  comes in almost last alongside the green woodpecker (63) and easily overlooked feral pigeon (64). Skylark (65) was of course one of my favourite local songsters but common tern (66)  and oystercatcher (67) both came to notice due to their vocal skills Having checked back on previous counts since the site started in 2015 this isn’t a bad  result and local birding has significantly improved my environmental credentials with 99% of my year list of 105 being from within 7 miles of home. However you choose to watch yours in 2020 Happy New Year.

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Muntjac one of the areas most common deer

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

 

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

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.

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.