Aylmerton Nature Diary

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Friday 29th April


Snipe, on the water meadow

I did manage to get out briefly yesterday, to check on the Garganey. They were both still present mid-afternoon, the male continuing to engage in display behaviour! The current run of ‘missed birds’ however continued, with a Yellow Wagtail, female Redstart and Common Sandpiper all being reported in the morning. Then, to top it off, Andy comes across a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker late afternoon!


Coot, busy building a replacement nest for the one they abandoned, due to bovine disturbance

This afternoon, I decided to get down to the park to see if any of yesterday’s interesting species had remained.  First success came in the form of the pair of Garganey, still present on the water meadow at 2 o’clock but I couldn’t find them on my return an hour and a half later. Also present was an Oystercatcher, a Snipe and two pairs of Teal. The Coot were busy rebuilding their nest in a different location, having abandoned the original site. There was a Marsh Tit near the screen and a Common Sandpiper, roosting on the western edge, before flying across the lake towards Boat House bay. A rather subdued Whitethroat was singing from the brambles, south of the dam. I was in the grazing meadow trying to get a photo of the Whitethroat when I heard the distinctive call of a Yellow Wagtail. I eventually located it, feeding around the cattle, accompanied by a few Pied Wagtails – one of which was a good candidate for a White Wagtail. Passing by the reed bed, on my way home, the Reed Warbler gave a brief burst of song before quickly falling silent. Whilst looking for the Garganey again, I found a Yellow wagtail – probably a second bird.

Yellow Wagtail feeding around the cattle, grazing meadow, south of the dam


Seen here with White Wagtail


and finally, a probable second bird on the water meadow, seen soon after


Lastly, a grab shot of the Whitethroat – bramble hedge, south of the dam


Of non-birding interest – the first spike of Early Purple Orchid, has appeared along the dam


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Wednesday 27th April


Male Garganey, Felbrigg Park

This morning I made up a little for my recent run of missed birds by finding, for me at least, a ‘Felbrigg first’, in the form of a superb pair of Garganey, on the water meadow. I was on my way to a meeting and took the scenic route along the middle path to the lake. As I reached the water meadow, I was struck by how few ducks there were – just a handful of Mallard and five Teal, but there on the bank, was a pair of Garganey! There have only been a couple of previous records of this scarce summer visitor at Felbrigg. They were still present this evening.

A few more shots of these lovely birds





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Tuesday 26th April


Clutch of Coot eggs exposed to the elements, Felbrigg Park

The weather here has just been dreadful. Spent most of the day in Norwich but did manage to get into the park, between the showers, late afternoon. Not surprisingly, with a strong north-westerly blowing, there was virtually no bird activity – I did manage to hear a couple of Marsh Tit in their usual locations, around the back gate and viewing screen, but precious little else. As I stood by the sluice, scanning the water meadow, I noticed both adult Coots were on the water. I checked the nest from the path and, sure enough, the clutch of eggs were fully exposed to the elements. With temperatures down to about 6 degrees, I fear that their prospects for survival are pretty slim. If the adults have abandoned, I think we can all guess the reason why! Further up the water meadow, a lone Snipe was flushed by the wandering cattle. I took a long walk down the course of the Scarrow Beck, returning via Common Plantation. Whist sheltering under an oak tree, from one of the sharp pulses of hail, I was delighted to see a Cuckoo fly silently around the edge of the wood and disappear – my first sighting at Felbrigg this year. The male Mandarin was also on the lake on my return home.


Sunday evening

Went to check on whether the Dunlin was still present on the water meadow, which indeed it was – as, unfortunately, were the cattle!


I fear this may put an end to further breeding attempts by any waterbirds or waders. We’ll have to see I guess.

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Sunday 24th April


Dunlin – a rare bird at Felbrigg

I was up at dawn to lead a Spring Song & Breakfast event at Cley NWT. It was hailing on the drive over and there was a bitterly cold wind blowing when I arrived. Despite the weather, the dozen or so enthusiastic participants did manage to see or hear several interesting species including a splendid summer plumage Spotted Redshank, Whimbrel and Whitethroat.

Then it was back home for a Felbrigg Park Breeding Bird Survey stock-take meeting, at the Hall. We’d just got back to the cottage – via the allotment, when Tim & Dawn called by to say that they’d found a Dunlin on the water meadow! I’ve only seen Dunlin at Felbrigg once before and that was about ten years ago – so there was no hanging around. The bird wasn’t on view when I got there but it did finally appear from the inlet on the western edge of the water meadow. A bird in transitional plumage, just beginning to show some dark belly feathers.

Here, being chased by a Lapwing


The afternoon was spent exploring Thwaite Common where, in the space of ten minutes, I saw a Cuckoo followed a male Ring Ouzel – though it took me nearly an hour to get a second confirmatory view! Just as I was coming away a flock of eight Curlew flew low, north across the Common – another unusual inland record.

Calling Cuckoo, Thwaite Common – roll on my first for the year at Felbrigg!


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Friday 22nd April


One of the pair of Oystercatcher, feeding in the early morning dew

Managed to get out into the park before breakfast – the weather being overcast and cold. There was little of note on my way round and no sound of yesterday’s Reed Warbler in the reed bed. It was heard singing later though – presumably once it had warmed up a bit. The Oystercatchers were busy feeding on the grazing meadow, east of the dam and the very pale Buzzard was again sat on a fence post, along the Scarrow Beck.


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Thursday 21st April

After spending practically all of yesterday in the Park, doing bird walks for NENBC & NT, I didn’t manage to get out today until late afternoon. This meant that I certainly missed out on Moss’s two Crane, seen over the Park this morning – gnash! There was the usual stuff on the water meadow, including the rather odd looking female Mallard-Shoveler x, with ten remaining chicks, a couple of Snipe, the pair of Oystercatcher and a lone Lapwing. Over the lake, a mixed hirundine flock included the two Martin species and Swallow. The very pale Buzzard was soaring over Common Plantation along with two more regular looking birds. Little Owl was calling from the oaks near the dam. Highlight of the walk was Reed Warbler, found by Simon, and heard only, but more evidence that summer is on it’s way!


Tuesday afternoon

I was up at the allotment (and my bird information pager on the dining room table!) when the news came through of a White Stork seen over Cromer and heading for Felbrigg!! By the time I found out and got myself  down to the park the bird had, presumably, long since gone. As far as I’m aware there haven’t been any records of this species at Felbrigg (anyone knowing different, please do contact me) but amazingly, there is a record of Black Stork – considerably rarer, back in 1999.

In the aftermath of this excitement, I was standing on the path which crosses the top sluice, looking over the water meadow, when I noticed a brown duck in the distance with a tightly clustered group of baby chicks. Hurray I thought, my first record of breeding Mallard for the year. As the female and her brood of twelve came closer I realised that something wasn’t quite right. This female wasn’t a Mallard, it was more like a Shoveler – but something didn’t look right for that species either. Consensus amongst a group of local birders in the evening was that it was one of those dreaded hybrids! I attach a couple of photos and would be very pleased to receive comments or opinions from anyone as to the true identity of this bird. What is perhaps equally surprising as the event itself is how, at one of the busiest bird-watching times of the year, this bird had previously gone unnoticed. I attached a few photos of the bird in question and her rapidly diminishing brood of twelve:




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Tuesday 19th April

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Early morning sun over the water meadow, Felbrigg

The lull in Spring migration continues. Despite the calm, warm morning there was nothing new on my walk around the lake. I was surprised to find though a pair of Gadwall and three Snipe on the temporary pool in the field above the water meadow. There were two more pairs of Gadwall on the lake, along with 17 Tufted Duck and the usual Mallard, Coot, Moorhen, Mute Swan and Canada Geese. Sitting on a fence post below the dam, by Scarrow Beck, was the very pale Buzzard I’ve been seeing in the area for the past few weeks. In looked even paler in the bright morning sunlight and rather greyish on the upper parts, before it flew up into Common Plantation and was lost to view. Several Marsh Tit were along the western edge of the lake, where a rather odd burst of sub-song caught my attention. It sounded rather like a Garden Warbler but as these are scarce in our area I decided to track it down. Eventually the bird revealed itself as a male Blackcap – as I had suspected, but the song was a little different from usual. Over in the reed bed a couple of Reed Bunting were busy setting up territory and the Barn Owl was hunting along the edge of the water meadow. No sign this morning of any Shoveler.

Reed Bunting, establishing territory in the reed bed


The very pale Buzzard, seen around the area over the past few weeks


Marsh Tit, one of several birds along the western edge of Felbrigg Lake


Song Thrush doesn’t feature often in this blog but, as John remarked this morning, there does seem to have been a bit of an increase lately. This one was photographed in a neighbours garden 


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Weekend resumé


Coot, nest-building on the Water Meadow, Felbrigg

A busy weekend doing domestic tasks and an NENBC outdoor meeting at Swanton Novers has meant little local birding and no blog. I did manage to get out to Felbrigg on Friday morning for a last rendezvous with Phil & Manu, before Manu returns to Nigeria, and again a couple of times yesterday – more of which in a moment.

The weather on Friday morning was cool with a moderate NE breeze and, as a consequence, there was nothing particularly different for us to show Manu. The Green Sandpiper of the previous day had departed and there were no new migrants, although I did manage to find a single House Martin in the hirundine flock. The male Mandarin was on show, as was the Barn Owl and there was a (migrant?) Meadow Pipit on The Warren. The rest of Friday and all day Saturday it rained and rained.

With the NENBC field trip to Swanton Novers yesterday, which by the way was excellent (we must get more records from this ‘permit only’ Natural England reserve, on the western-most fringe of our recording area) starting at 09.00, I did manage a quick walk around the lake first thing. It was cold and extremely soggy from the previous two days rain and there was nothing new to delay me. However, a couple of hours later, when we were well into the field trip, the pager went off, alerting me to a Little Gull at Felbrigg! I did do a quick wiz round on my return, in the vain hope that it might have hung around but, alas, no. This was an excellent find by Mark Clements and, I think, a ‘first’ for Felbrigg. Apparently, this adult summer bird flew in from the east, stayed half an hour, before departing north. A nice record.

Adult Little Gull, Felbrigg – record and photo by Mark Clements


Other bits of interest: there is at least one pair of Coot nesting on the Water Meadow, although with the water levels continuing to drop, they may not last long; a pair and a single male Shoveler are still present; the Mute Swans seem to have settled on a reed bed location for this years nest and the six little Egyptian Geese, seen on Thursday afternoon, being brought down to the lake by their parents for safety, don’t appear to have even made it through the night!

Pied Wagtail – one of a couple of pairs seen regularly around The Warren