Aylmerton Nature Diary


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Breaking news…

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Two eggs currently in the box at Cromer. If we get a full clutch of four this year we could possibly have our first Peregrine chicks around 5th May! Great news, at a time when it’s hard to come by.


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Saturday 28th March

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Cromer light – against a leaden sky

Day 5 of the lock-down. In contrast to yesterday this morning was overcast with a stiff north-westerly wind, gusting to 45 mph. As a consequence most of the birds were keeping their heads down. In fact, the only birds I saw along the entire length of the golf course were Wood Pigeon, Magpie, Chaffinch, Linnet and Meadow Pipit. There was the usual variety of gulls – though stopping the crab fishing off Cromer has had a dramatic impact on the gull numbers – and a single Gannet off-shore. The dedication of the green-keepers is amazing – out first-thing in all weathers, manicuring the greens, grooming the bunkers… but no-one playing. It’s all very strange! Anyway, back to the birds and continuing a theme from last week – uneaten berries. There’s still a lot of sea-buckthorn berries on the coastal bushes, and over the past week I’ve seen Wood Pigeon, Dunnock, Robin, Blue Tit and even Magpie all gorging themselves. It wasn’t just the birds that were scarce this morning the people count was down too: 8 dog-walkers and 5 exercisers / shoppers. I did think I’d seen a jogger at one point, but when I got a better view it turned out to be someone chasing a dog – just goes to prove the point that good identification comes from careful observation!


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Friday 27th March

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Hooded Crow being pursued by Carrion Crow, Cromer lighthouse

Day 4. It was a better morning than the forecast suggested with a gentle breeze from the north west – sunny on the coast but misty inland. Bird-wise it was mostly the same stuff until I reached the totem pole when, looking out to sea, I saw an adult Gannet heading east off-shore. Further along the path I noticed a distant thrush on one of the fairways – it was a lone Fieldfare. My first this year and a local patch tick. Nearing the lighthouse, on my way back home, my attention was drawn to a melee of corvids – mostly Jackdaw, a couple of Magpie and several crows. Two birds in particular caught my eye – a Carrion Crow mobbing what looked like another. As the second bird turned in the ensuing pursuit I could clearly see it was pale underneath. I managed a few record shots and, under closer examination at home, I was able to confirm my suspicions – Hooded Crow, and definitely not the usual hybrid suspect from West Runton. The underparts were uniform pale grey, with sharp demarcation between the black throat and the pale chest. Only time will tell if NRC accept the record, but for now I’m pretty happy! ‘Lockdown List’ rises to 42 and this mornings  people count – 4 joggers, 7 dog-walkers & 5 misc.

More record shots showing the clean grey underparts

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Record shot of the Runton bird, taken last December – showing patchy black on underside

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Thursday 26th March

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Yesterdays Skylark, singing high above North Lodge Park – not present this morning

Day 3. There was quite a sharp overnight frost, still in evidence when I started my daily exercise. By my return however the early morning sun had melted most of it away. Surprisingly not much bird activity. The migrant Chaffinch numbers were significantly down on the past couple of days but the Starlings keep piling through east, in small groups of around 50. Several singing Chiffchaff along the under-cliff but no other migrants. I did manage to see the odd Red-throated Diver heading east – close enough in-shore to allow me to confirm identification with my binoculars. That, together with Buzzard over the garden yesterday, brings my Lockdown List to 39. Both Peregrines were in evidence late afternoon yesterday, with the female sat on the edge of the nest-box and the male busy plucking a prey item – possibly a thrush of some sort. They were about early again this morning – calling to each other.  And the people count: 4 joggers, 7 dog-walkers and 4 exercisers / shoppers.


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Wednesday 25th March

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First Small Tortoiseshell of the year in the garden yesterday

Day 2 of the Coronavirus lockdown. I was out again early this morning for my daily exercise – a walk along Cromer golf course. The birdlife was mostly as yesterday but I did add Fulmar, Common Gull – both close in-shore,  Kestrel and Skylark. Oh! and I forgot Pheasant & Red-legged Partridge from yesterday, which brings my newly-created ‘Lockdown List’ to 37. The people count was 6 joggers, 13 dog-walkers, 7 miscellaneous – exercise, shopping, workers etc … and one birder on the cliff-top, hidden in the gorse!

For the curious and possibly questioning amongst you, I’ve thought about the appropriateness of this daily activity – the primary purpose of which is to maintain physical and mental health – and consider it does fall within Government guidelines for the time-being: I don’t use the car to get to or from my walk (non-essential travel), I set off early to avoid as many people as possible – and when I do encounter them I keep a healthy distance away, my route is an undulating 23/4 mile round trip and I turn around before the start of the houses (and people – nothing personal!) in Overstrand. I do take my binoculars but not a ‘scope which, of its very nature, would cause me to linger. I have considered sea-watching or ‘viz-miging’ but as these are essentially sedentary activities it’s difficult to classify them as exercise and, like fishing (an example raised in Q&A in the media yesterday), in my view are outside if not the letter then the spirit of the guidelines. Obviously, if these change I will have to review my activities accordingly.

Yesterday it was quiet in the garden but I did see my first two butterflies – Peacock & Small Tortoiseshell. I also spent longer than I should looking for the Peregrines – which were mostly absent or out of sight for the majority of the day.

Chiffchaff along the coastal path, east of Cromer

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Tuesday 24th March

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Male Peregrine carrying long-legged prey item – female sat on the pinnacle above

Day one of the country-wide Coronavirus lock-down. I was out early to avail myself of the permitted daily period of exercise – maintaining strict social distancing as I did so, of course. I walked briskly to the end of the golf course and back, observing 32 species in the process. Highlights included the pair of Peregrines circling the church tower, four Stock Dove, several hundred Starling and 63 Chaffinch – all heading east. I encountered only a couple of people along the coastal path – more nearer the town. My count was 2 joggers, 7 miscellaneous, including a couple of possible shoppers and 9 dog-walkers. That’s me confined to barracks for the rest of the day. Any other birding interest will have to be garden fly-overs.


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Sunday 22nd March

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Eider heading east, seen from North Lodge Park this morning

Despite the sunshine it’s been bitterly cold on the North Norfolk coast these past few days. This morning I braved the elements to do a short sea-watch from North Lodge Park.  There was a steady stream of Red-throated Diver heading east – I counted 152 in the hour and a half I was watching. There were a few Gannet, Guillemot and Fulmar but the highlight was a group of five male Eider, reasonably close in shore.

In other news, following the National Trust decision to close all their houses, shops, cafes etc. earlier in the week, they have now decided to close their gated estates as well – this includes Felbrigg, Sheringham Park and Blickling in the NENBC area. Footpaths remain open – for now!