Aylmerton Nature Diary

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Monday 16th November

Desert Wheatear at Gramborough Hill this afternoon – always brighten-up a November day

Last week was a write-off, at least as far as birding was concern – combination of bad weather and too much DIY! Yesterday was my scheduled WeBS ‘Duck Count’ day at Felbrigg, but with strong winds and pouring rain I decided to give it a miss. I went instead this morning. No real stand-out birds but a pair of Shoveler was a nice addition to the autumn wildfowl. A couple of Snipe and a Water Rail on the water-meadows added interest. As a reward to myself, after spending the morning helping dig a pond at WBOA, I went to see the Desert Wheatear at Gramborough Hill this afternoon. A typically showy bird in superb plumage. They always brighten up November birding.

Best from the WeBS count at Felbrigg this morning – a pair of Shoveler
And in other news – a gathering of ‘OWL’s – Richard & Tony being the other proud owners

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Sunday 8th November

Some of the 24 Common Crossbill at Felbrigg Lake yesterday

With the new lock-down comes yet more DIY and redecoration – so birding this week has been pretty much non-existent. I did manage an early morning visit to Felbrigg yesterday though – still and warm (for the time of year) with a touch of mist in the valley and a beautiful sunrise. There were hundreds of Pink-feet flighting between their coastal roost and inland feeding grounds and an increase in wintering wildfowl – mainly Gadwall and Teal. A couple of Wigeon are still hanging around, also two Little Grebe and a pair of Tufted Duck. Other than a small flock of Siskin in the Alders and several Reed Bunting leaving their roost in the reed-bed there were very few small birds in evidence around the lake. I was just chatting with Chris on the steps by the top sluice when we heard the unmistakeable call of parakeet coming from the western shelter-belt – possibly two birds. Most likely Rose-ringed (Ring-necked) but with the news of the escaped young Alexandrian Parakeet nearby in Erpingham it’ll take more detail to put the identity beyond reasonable doubt. Despite searching the area as far as the Old Deer Park I couldn’t relocate it / them. I’d spent too long looking for them and needed to get back. On my way along the path to towards the lake a flock of noisy ‘chupping’ birds flew by me and landed in the Alders near the top sluice. A flock of mostly male Crossbill settled briefly before heading towards Common Plantation. From views at the time, and examinations of my record shots since, they all looked like ‘regular x-bill’ to me – although one or two did have fairly hefty bills. My best views of this species in the park though. As I write this blog four Golden Plover have just flown east over Cliff Avenue!

A couple more record shots of the Crossbill flock yesterday

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Tuesday 3rd November

A sad end to an exquisite bird – it’s in my freezer if anyone can do something positive with it

It was mostly a good day at Cley NWT yesterday – the last for us for a few weeks. The weather was surprisingly warm but with a fresh southerly wind. The Lesser Legs was still showing well on Keeper’s Marsh first thing but it did go missing late morning and hadn’t returned by mid-afternoon. There was a reasonable selection of wildfowl – including a nice flock of 38 Pintail on North Scrape, the usual selection of winter waders, plenty of big gulls – including two adult Caspian on Simmond’s, Bonxie west off-shore, Water Pipit and several pairs of Stonechat. The highlight – found by Jane – was a female-type Goldeneye in the Catchwater Drain on our way back to the Centre mid-afternoon. The low point was when a Kingfisher struck one of the Centre windows, with fatal consequences:(

iPhone record shot of this continuing crowd-pleasing Lesser Yellowlegs
iPhone record shot of female-type Goldeneye in the Catchwater Drain

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Friday 30th October

Lesser legs at Cley NWT today

We popped over to Cley NWT this morning to catch up with the Lesser Yellowlegs. Although the light wasn’t great the bird was reasonably obliging as it pottered around the edge of one of the water-filled depressions on Keeper’s Marsh. Much better views than the last one I saw in Norfolk at Breydon, which never came nearer than half a mile for me. Today’s bird was my third, possibly fourth, for the County.

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Wednesday 28th October

Ring-necked Duck at Holkham. It appears to be considered as a genuine bird

Ducks have featured strongly over the past few days. Yesterday we took a trip to Holkham Park to catch-up with Ring-necked Duck which has been there for the past week. Described as an ‘adult male’ it was, none-the-less, tricky to find amongst the tufteds, being in eclipse. To my mind it looked more like a 1st winter bird, with a darkish eye and narrow white band around the base of the bill. On Monday the best bird at Cley NWT was a female Scaup on the Brackish Marsh – often difficult to find as it stayed hidden in the vegetation close to the edge. Whilst waiting for the Bearded Tit to put in an appearance at Felbrigg on Saturday I picked up what I assumed was one of the Tufted x Ferruginous Duck on the lake – although something didn’t look quite right at the time. Looking back at a couple of record shots I realise that this bird has a pale sub-terminal band on the bill – not a feature seen on the two regular hybrids. Ducks always demand close attention.

Presumed Tufted x Ferruginous hybrid – but this individual has a pale bill band
The regular hybrids – lacking the pale white sub-terminal bill band of Saturday’s bird

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Sunday 25th October

A pair of Bearded Tit in the reed-bed – only the second NENBC record for Felbrigg

This week, in contrast to the previous one, has been pretty quiet on the birding front. A couple of days wildlife site surveying for Felbeck Trust and a very damp mid-week walk on Wednesday left little time for much else. On Tuesday, whilst out surveying in the west of the NENBC area I watched a pair of Red Kite drift slowly over Bale, heading for Field Dalling. They were joined briefly by a stunning male Hen Harrier. The week drew to a close with the welcome discovery by ‘Gresham Phil’ of a pair of Bearded Tit in the reed-bed at Felbrigg – a fitting conclusion to the NENBC Felbrigg Walks Week. I was quickly on the scene and managed to get brief but excellent views – alas no photos. This is only the second NENBC record of this species in the park – the first coming almost exactly five years ago. I returned this morning in the hope of obtaining at least a record shot… which I did!

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Tuesday 20th October

Stonechat – one of a local ‘influx’ at Cromer & Felbrigg

Amongst the many recent ‘super star’ visitors, there’s been an increase in the local Stonechat population. On Sunday we encountered four, possibly five, in Felbrigg and yesterday afternoon, in a half-hearted look for migrants, there were three on the golf course. Any Stonechat in the area would, at other times, probably take the headlines – but not this autumn. As I was attempting to get better views of yesterday’s birds near the turf slope I got within six feet of a Jack Snipe. The bird rose silently from the bramble cover, fluttered weakly across the adjacent fairway and dropped into vegetation on the steep bank opposite. Obviously an exhausted migrant. Moments late I flushed a Song Thrush which, in overall terms, was noticeably larger than the snipe. The size, short stout bill and indistinct white rear wing edge confirming the id. A new ‘patch’ tick. Today is dedicated to more wildlife site surveying but before I sign off, here are a couple more shots of arguably the Norfolk ‘bird of the year’ – the Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin.

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Monday 19th October

Virtuous reward – Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin at Stiffkey – 36 nail-biting hours after news broke

The past few days have largely been dedicated to conservation. On Friday we (Felbeck Trust) continued our survey work of small sites of wildlife interest along the Norfolk coastal belt, and on Saturday we took part in the Global Birding Day challenge. Our team – Think Global, Bird Local – managed to rack-up a creditable total of 92 species, in a triangle between Sheringham, Trimingham and North Walsham (all within the NENBC area). The highlights of the day included: Pallas’s & Yellow-browed Warbler, Great Northern Diver, some late Sandwich Tern, a very interesting ‘northern’ Willow Warbler, an inland Black Redstart at Blickling, late Swallow at Trimingham and Purple Sandpiper & Rock Pipit at West Runton. A thoroughly enjoyable day, but with horrible twinges of déjà vu. A few years back we were participating in the NENBC Big Sit at Felbrigg when news broke of a Citril Finch at Holkham – we faithfully stuck to the task (unlike those who deserted their posts – you know who you are 😉 ) and, as a consequence, missed the bird. We were only just starting our Global Birding Day challenge on Saturday when news of a mega – a Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin (first UK record in over 40 years) at Stiffkey came through. A mild depression swept across the group! Yesterday it was still present at first light – only problem was that I was leading the first of our NENBC Felbrigg Walks Week events!! I must admit to being slightly distracted at the beginning but, in the end, our covid compliant group had a fantastic time – one of my best walks ever in Felbrigg. Having spent nearly an hour and a half around the lake clocking up 40 or so ‘regular species’ we walked along the path above the water meadows in the hope of seeing Redwing. Two birds flew from the shelter-belt, dropping in to the tops of the beech trees west of the Hall – Hawfinch! They quickly flew north towards the Old Deer Park, taking two more with them. We relocated to the traditionally favoured spot in front of the Orangery but with no luck. I was just recounting the story of the Black Redstart at Blickling when I noticed a small bird sat on the gable-end of the hall. Would you believe it, another Black Red! The National Trust must have the monopoly on this scarce migrant in inland Norfolk! We decided to quit whist we were ahead and return to our vehicles. Walking back along the top path, a snipe appeared out of the water meadows – a late addition to the list. A quick look through the binoculars to check revealed an exquisite Jack Snipe – which proceeded to do a wide circuit in front of the group, before plunging down into thick vegetation near the sluice. Amazing. By the afternoon I was free to concentrate on the task in hand – together with veterans of the GBD challenge we eventually caught up with the ‘Bushchat’ at Stiffkey. Many fewer birders present, all well behaved – in contrast to the media reporting of the day before. It gave excellent prolonged views and, with this mega firmly under our belt, we went on to collect a couple of supporting cast characters – my third Pallas’s and second Red-flanked Bluetail of the autumn. Norfolk birding doesn’t get better than this!

Record shot of Black Redstart on Felbrigg Hall roof – seen during NENBC Felbrigg Walks Week
Grab shot of Pallas’s Leaf Warbler – Thornham
Better views of Billy Bluetail – this one at Holme

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Friday 16th October

Record shot of Red-flanked Bluetail – Warren Woods

Yesterday was a ‘blue ribbon’ day for late autumn migrants in the NENBC area – though with long-range views, of flitting birds, in dense cover – not a day for photography! After a leisurely start I wandered up to the golf course to catch-up with the Dusky Warbler, found the day before in bracken at the bottom of the turf slope. A twenty minute stake-out produced the goods when the bird announced it’s arrival with a series of sharp’ tuck’ calls. Seen well but all too briefly the bird quickly disappeared over the cliff edge and didn’t return within the hour. After some late morning chores I got a text to say that there was a Pallas’s Warbler near Trimingham church. We were heading out that way so called in. The bird had been feeding in the hedgerow of the ‘Quiet Lane’ which runs west of the church but had apparently been disturbed by a dog-walker. I eventually relocated it in the garden of the large house opposite. A couple of brief views clinched the relevant id features – gleaming white underside, wing-bars, head-stripes and pale lemon rump. We carried on with our task of ‘oiling’ for tomorrows Global Birding Day challenge – more of that later – when another text announced a Red-flanked Bluetail in Warren Woods. Another local patch tick and an NENBC ‘first’ for me to boot! As the light was rapidly failing I was surprised and delighted that the bird was still present and performing to the small assembled group on arrival. What a ‘hat-trick’ of rare eastern visitors – a truly memorable day. My sincere thanks to Simon – finder of the Dusky & ‘Billy Bluetail’ and for those who freely share their information of scarce and rare birds in the local area.

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Thursday 15th October

Record shot of Red-eyed Vireo, Kenidjack – first Yankee passerine in the valleys in two decades!

Arrived back safely from our weeks birding in Cornwall. Surprisingly the American Golden Plover wasn’t the highlight – the Red-eyed Vireo in Kenidjack though certainly was! After all these years of working the valleys, looking for Yankee migrants, we finally did it. Supporting cast for the rest of the week included: multiple Yellow-browed Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Firecrest, Chough, Great Egret and Pink-footed Goose (a Cornish tick). In all 100 species recorded. Meanwhile back in Norfolk, Cley on Monday produced little of interest beyond the regular selection of seasonal waders, several Stonechat and a couple of Snow Bunting. I’ve been busy with various conservation projects ever since.

We had multiple records of Yellow-browed Warbler – incredibly almost the commonest ‘small bird’ in the valleys!
Our only Pied Fly of the trip
Great Egret at Stithians Reservoir
Highlight of recent wildlife surveys – Ivy Bee – or so I’m told!