Aylmerton Nature Diary

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Thursday 31st March


Chiffchaff, one of perhaps a dozen birds in the park at present

Spent most of yesterday morning with Phil, walking his Felbrigg Park Breeding Bird Survey (FPBBS) sector, around Common Plantation and along the Metton road. There were a few things of interest but it’s still too early for the main breeding activity to commence. Best bird was a strikingly pale Buzzard, sat on a fence post along Scarrow Beck.

The afternoon was spent at Blakeney, with grandson Patrick crab fishing and taking the opportunity to catch-up with the Lapland Bunting, which have been there all winter. They are really smart looking birds. I think there’s only ever been one record in the Aylmerton/Felbrigg area, and that was in 2000. Wouldn’t it be nice to have another!


Male Lapland Bunting, Blakeney – in near full summer plumage

Managed to get into the park for a quick walk with Matthew at tea-time. There was still a Red Kite hanging around the Hall and a silent Chiffchaff in the hedge below the dam. The Barn Owl was out hunting by the lake (and another at the allotment at dusk) and a pair of Mandarin were prospecting suitable nest-holes.

Female Mandarin, inspecting her possible ‘summer let’!


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Tuesday 29th March


One of two Barn Owl hunting over the rough grazing meadow, Aylmerton

Fabulous morning in Felbrigg Park. There were the remains of a heavy frost as I walked down the lane. Two Barn Owl were hunting in the rough meadow at the edge of the village and a Chiffchaff singing from the conifer belt. Just inside the park, whilst I was listening to a Great Spotted Woodpecker, the distinctive sounds of a Grey Wagtail rang out. I managed to see the bird as it flew through the trees and over The Woodyard. I took the middle path to the lake to ensure that the bright early morning sun was behind me. In addition to the usual wildfowl on the water meadow there were three Snipe. The water levels have risen significantly again, following yesterday’s rain. As I scanned down towards the sluice I noticed a small water bird close to the block of reeds by the path – turned out to be a lovely summer plumage Little Grebe. A second bird almost immediately started calling from the lake. I’d just passed The Warren, looking for yesterday’s Swallow, when I heard a familiar whistling sound – a Shelduck flew in from the south. My first on the patch in 2016. A Green Woodpecker flew across the lake and into a large Beech tree on the opposite side. A male Mandarin was out in open water before it flew off through the trees. I took the path back between the Forge and Paul’s Common to Park Farm, here I was delighted to see a Swallow flying around the farm barns. Further along the road, another Buzzard and, as I turned in to The Street, a Red Kite over Lion’s Mouth. I’d just reached home when a small flock of Siskin passed over-head buzzing. Not a bad morning for late March!

First Shelduck this year, Felbrigg Lake


Distant shot of the pair of Barn Owl, Aylmerton


One of several Buzzard in the Felbrigg area recently



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Easter Monday


Swallow, against leaden skies –  first for me at Felbrigg in 2016!

We were volunteering at Cley this morning. By lunch-time we were both soaked through to the skin, necessitating an early return home, to dry out and warm up! Bird of the morning was undoubtably a lone Swallow, heading east ahead of the cold weather front.

By four this afternoon I’d dried out and so had the weather, sufficient to venture out onto the ‘patch’. As we walked down Park Road, a Red Kite loomed over the shelter belt. We saw two later on, over Common Plantation. Nothing unusual on the water meadow, but a Grey Heron did catch my eye. Approaching the screen, our progress was impeded by a large Silver Birch, which had blown down, right onto the kissing gate. We managed to heave it to the side, leaving the path barely passable. The female Mute Swan was on the rough pile of sticks which may constitute this year’s nest, but there was no sign of any Mandarin. We’d just about completed the circuit of the lake when, out of nowhere, a Swallow appeared over The Warren – my first for Felbrigg in 2016!

Female Mute Swan on her make-shift nest


Red Kite, one of several in recent days. None of them wing-tagged


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Happy Easter!


Happy Easter everyone! – primroses in full bloom on the dam bank, Felbrigg

I managed to get out into the park twice yesterday, despite the weather. Went round with Jake in the morning, completing the lake circuit, before I had to go for my meeting with Richard. As we approached the water meadow, all the ducks went up. We looked around to see what had disturbed them, just as a superb Red Kite drifted over our heads and away to the east. In the beck below the dam we had good views of a Water Rail. Another Red Kite then appeared from the north, over the shelter belt, and then another and another! All three eventually rising up and heading east. I wonder if these were local birds – I’ve not previously seen this number together, or whether they might have been migrants. Four Buzzards were circling Common Plantation. As we approached the lake from the west we could see the Mandarin in with the Tufted Duck flock – a pair took off, whilst a lone male headed into the dense cover by the screen. Ten minutes later the pair returned with a third male. There were several Chiffchaff singing along the shelter belt, between the back gate and the lake, and the Little Owl put in a brief appearance in the ivy tree.

In the afternoon I did a longer walk around the fields of Sustead with Matthew – the area we’re surveying as part of the Breeding Bird Survey of Felbrigg Park. There was a flock of twenty Redwing near Glebe Farm and the same pale Buzzard, that we’d seen a few days ago, appeared along the hedge. As we re-entered the park we saw a nice male Bullfinch (sector 8) and another Red Kite drifted over the grazing meadow, in front of the Hall.

Handsome male Pied Wagtail – one of four birds, The Warren


There were five Herring Gull on the Lake, and still a few Common Gull


Two of four Red Kite over Felbrigg yesterday


Male Mandarin, Felbrigg Lake



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Good Friday


Toad, making it’s way across the dam

Family outing to Felbrigg Hall this afternoon, for the annual Easter egg hunt – a very popular event! I took the opportunity to swing by the lake, just in case there were any early migrants in evidence. There weren’t – only a Chiffchaff singing at the edge of the Old Deer Park. Three Mandarin, two male and a female were out on the lake, but there was little else of note. I did see a couple of squashed frogs down the lane to the park (it’s that time of year) and noticed more in the lake. A couple of toads were slowly making their way across the dam.

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Wednesday 23rd March


Lapwing engaged in ariel antics above the water meadow

They’re back! Lapwing displaying over the water meadow in Felbrigg this morning. Now all we need is to get the dogs and cattle under control, the water levels lower and stable, and then there might be a possibility of successful breeding this year. Let’s hope so!

Also on the walk this morning, a pair of Mandarin flew from the lake towards the Old Deer Park and a pair of Oystercatcher headed in the direction of Felbrigg village. A dark looking Buzzard cruised through the shelter-belt, a Water Rail was squealing from the reed bed, Siskin flew over the Alders and there were Snipe and a pair of Gadwall still on the water meadow. The male Pochard seems to have gone now – I didn’t see it yesterday or this morning, and there was no sight or sound of Chiffchaff around the village either, though there were two Roe Deer in the rough pasture.

Two Oystercatcher, head towards Felbrigg village


A much less common sight than it once was – a singing Starling in Aylmerton village

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Tuesday 22nd March – now with Post Script


Distant shot of Chiffchaff – first migrant of the spring!

P.S. I’ve just looked back over my records and this is the exact same day as last year!!

It was a beautiful sunny morning as I set off for my walk. I’d barely got to the edge of the village when I heard the familiar refrain of a singing Chiffchaff – my first summer visitor of 2016! A little further down the lane a second bird was singing in the hedge. I walked my usual route along the middle path to the lake, looking over the water meadow as I did so. Fourteen Snipe were dotted around amongst the Teal and there was a pair of Gadwall. Nothing different on the lake but lots of Greylag present. I continued up the Weaver’s Way towards Felbrigg church – a single Meadow Pipit was calling just beyond the wall. The pair of Little Owl were sunning themselves in their favourite tree near the Hall. As I turned off the carriage track, heading for home, I noticed a couple of Redwing perched high up in the trees – they eventually flew off towards Sexton’s Lodge. A male Sparrowhawk was displaying over the Old Deer Park.

We’d only been saying at the weekend that neither Lee nor I had seen the Roe Deer for weeks. As I was busy trying to locate the second singing Chiffchaff, I came across this!  


One of the pair of Little Owl near the Hall


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Sunday 20th March


Early morning gull roost – Felbrigg Lake

Spent yesterday morning at the Aylmerton Pond Project working party and the afternoon co-leading the NENBC outdoor meeting at Hickling. I did manage a late visit to Felbrigg Lake in the evening – several owls calling and a Woodcock flew overhead.

Out again this morning. Nothing unusual at the lake – same flock of Tufted Duck, single male Pochard, three Mute Swan and a pair of Canada Geese. On the water meadow, a dozen or so Teal, two pair of Gadwall and a few Mallard. There were hundreds of gulls roosting on the lake, all Black-headed and Common, in a ratio of 2:1, I’d estimate. In the woods there was plenty of resident bird activity, with Nuthatch, Marsh Tit, Treecreeper, Stock Dove, Buzzard and a  single Woodcock in Common Plantation, being the highlights. At one point, whilst watching the antics of a Wren, grubbing about in the leaf-litter, I noticed a second brown object moving about – turned put to be a Short-tailed Vole! The Barn Owl was in the rough grazing meadow up the Street, on my return.

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Friday 18th March


One of two pairs of Mandarin, present on Felbrigg Lake this morning

The wind had turned to the north over night and it was drizzling when I set off from home this morning. I could hear a Green Woodpecker in the woods near Sexton’s Lodge, before turning down the still very muddy track, through the shelter belt, towards the lake. Five Greylag were circling overhead when I reached the viewing screen but there appeared to be only the usual assembly of wildfowl present. Then I noticed the male Pochard, hidden in the Tufted flock. Further along the path I disturbed three Mandarin – a male and two females, which swam out from the bank. I watched them for a while before one female separated and started heading for the dam. There she was met by a second male. Both males engaged in the odd bit of courtship behaviour – head bobbing and stretching. All four birds eventually flew off north, towards the Great Wood. The two adult and one young Mute Swan are still about. There were a dozen or so Teal and a pair of Gadwall on the Water Meadow. A second Green Woodpecker called from somewhere in Common Plantation, attracting another (third) bird to fly from the dead oaks, east of the lake, and into the wood.

The original ‘trio’ of Mandarin


The second male


On the way back up The Street I noticed, first a Red-legged Partidge and then a handsome cock Pheasant. Two of the lucky ones to have survived the winter slaughter 

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Thursday 17th March

Aylmerton has always had an odd collection of Collard Doves around the village. I remember Andy Benson, when he lived in here, raised the spectre of Barbary Dove, more than ten years ago. We’ve certainly had a few small and/or pale birds over the years. I photographed this particular individual on my bird table, through the kitchen window this afternoon.