Aylmerton Nature Diary

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Saturday 27th August – raptor-fest

It was barely light this morning as I sat at my computer writing a short piece for the NENBC Newsletter, when I heard the unmistakable ‘mewing’ of a Buzzard close by. Buzzards don’t normally get out of bed until ten so, when I’d finished my work, I went to investigate. I eventually found it, sitting in a tree in my neighbours field. It was being harassed by Magpies but, other than that, I couldn’t quite see what all the commotion was about. I continued along Red Barn Lane and into the park, noting a pair of Bullfinch near Sexton’s Lodge. For the first time in weeks, I saw the Barn Owl hunting over the water meadow – always nice to see. There was a Reed Warbler in the reed-bed, with another by Boat-house Bay and a Whitethroat near-by. Little Owl was calling from the oaks on the eastern edge of the lake and a Grey Wagtail flew north calling – it dropped down on to the top pond. The Kingfisher didn’t let me down either, calling and flying around the lake, as is it’s habit at the moment. The usual Mallard flock was made more interesting by the presence of a sub-adult male Tufted and an eclipse drake Gadwall. A female Mandarin was roosting up amongst the tangled tree roots.

Common Buzzard, first seen at dawn from Red Barn lane


As I reached the gate at the junction with the Weaver’s Way I heard another Buzzard, this one was sitting on one of the gate posts at the bottom of the rough grazing field. A few minutes later I became aware of a large raptor flying from the direction of Metton Carr, over the sheep pasture in front of the Hall. I assumed it was the Buzzard but as I watched it I notice a second bird with it and they were different – young Marsh Harriers. They made their way north towards the Great Wood and were quickly joined by a third individual! Marsh Harrier are an occasional migrant over the park – to see three together was pretty special. No sooner had I got my breath back when I noticed another raptor sitting up in the dead branches of a near-by oak, expecting to see either Buzzard or possibly another Marsh Harrier, it turned out to be a Red Kite. Quite a raptor-fest!

One of three Marsh Harrier, as they headed north over the sheep pastures


Red Kite in trees near the rough grazing meadow, south of the dam


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Friday 26th August


Two, of half a dozen, regular Cormorant at the lake

Just about every time I’ve been down to Felbrigg lately I’ve heard or seen Kingfisher. This morning I watched a bird fishing in the top pond above the water meadow, later it flew down to the lake. The weather was delightfully warm and still, with just a hint of autumn in the air. Our resident birds were much in evidence too, with calling Nuthatch, Goldcrest and Marsh Tit in the trees behind The Forge and a vocal Grey Wagtail flying over the lake towards the Old Deer Park. Summer visitors were still hanging on, with two family parties of Reed Warbler in the reed-bed and a singing Chiffchaff near the viewing screen. There was a gathering of 35+ House Martins over Park Farm. I’d just reached the village, on my way back home, when I encountered a ‘fixed flock’ in the shelter-belt by the Anglia Water pumping station. There were several Willow Warbler – now a scarce migrant in the parish, a Blackcap and Blue, Great and Coal Tit, busy feeding.

Poor shot of a diving Kingfisher – but you get the idea


One of probably six or seven Reed Warbler, still present at the lake


A mesmerising pattern of Silver Diving Beetles – Park Farm pond


One of a handful of migrant Willow Warbler, in the shelter-belt at the edge of the village



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Thursday 25th August


Lesser Whitethroat, the hedge below the dam

After the sea fret yesterday afternoon and the overnight rain I had hoped that there’d be something interesting about this morning. The first thing I noticed was that the juvenile Great Crested Grebe has apparently disappeared, as quickly as it came. I stood at the gate, looking down the rough grazing meadow, below the dam, but there was nothing sitting up on the line of fence posts – except Wood Pigeons that is. The Little Owl was in the usual Ash tree and both Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat were in the Hawthorn hedge. As I got to the west end of the dam two Kingfisher flew around the lake calling. I was back indoors by 08.00.

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Wednesday 24th August


Juvenile Great Crested Grebe – Felbrigg Lake

I was in the garden this afternoon doing a spot of sky watching, whist waiting for Peter to get back from Cromer. A few Swallows and House Martins were all I saw before a rather nice Buzzard drifted over the cottage. It all went quiet again until I became aware of a couple of gulls flying north west, low over the house. One was obviously a winter Black-headed Gull the other, considerably smaller, pale grey above with smokey under-wings and a bouyant almost ‘rowing like’ flight – a 1st winter Little Gull! This was a ‘patch’ tick for me and a bit of a grip-back on Mark, who had seen a superb summer plumage bird on Felbrigg Lake, earlier in the year.

We did our measuring up at the pond, courtesy of Peter’s dinghy, and returned home. We were sat in the car, talking through some of the detail of the forthcoming weekend working party, when I noticed a pale harrier sp. fly across the road. I was instantly out of the car but, fast though I was, the bird was quicker – lost to view over the houses. I quickly changed and headed down to Felbrigg in case the bird returned. It didn’t and, whilst I have my suspicions, the birds identity will remain a mystery – such is the way of birding. However, whilst down at the lake, looking for the harrier, I spotted a juvenile Great Crested Grebe on the water. The first I’ve seen at Felbrigg since the juvenile, found by Simon, last October.

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Tuesday 23rd August


Spotted Flycatcher – Park Farm, a former breeding location

Mad dogs and Englishmen. It was baking hot this afternoon on my first walk around the park in a few days. I wasn’t expecting to see a lot and I wasn’t disappointed! The highlights were; twenty two Mistle Thrush, which flew into the oaks along the eastern edge of the lake, a Kingfisher seen several times along the western edge and, on my way home, an adult Spotted Flycatcher in the garden of Park Farm. This is a former breeding location for this species but the first one I’ve seen here this year – another possible pair?

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Sunday 21st August


Kingfisher, Felbrigg Lake

It’s been a busy few days, what with birthday treats, the Rutland Water Bird Fair, visiting the kids in Peterborough etc., so I was pleased to get back to some ‘local patch’ birding this evening. It was sunny when I set off but there was still quite a breeze blowing, so I concentrated my efforts where there was a prospect of some sheltered feeding. First success came when, from the top sluice path, I saw what I thought were probably Spotted Flycatchers, feeding in the hawthorns around the pond, north of the water meadow. I was able to get a bit closer by walking back along the middle track. There were three birds, probably an adult and two youngsters – also there, a Whitethroat in the same bush. At the lake I was surprised to find a small group of eight Teal amongst the usual flock of moulting Mallards, whilst a female Mandarin was lurking under the over-hanging branches. The distinctive piping call of Kingfisher rang out across the lake and I quickly got on to it as it flew around the edge of the reed-bed. I later found it perched on the dam wall and again in the dead trees near the viewing screen. A Little Egret, preening along the western edge was my first here since the middle of March. To conclude the evening a Little Owl was sat out, enjoying the evening sunshine, in the hawthorns south of the dam.

A few of the small group of eight Teal – presumably returning for the winter


Little Egret, Felbrigg Lake – my first here since March


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Wednesday 17th August


Great Spotted Woodpecker, The Street

I was accompanied on my morning walk by Neil, my long-time birding friend. Our most surprising sighting was of no fewer than 21 Magpie, in the Ash trees north of the water meadow. Nothing unusual on the lake apart from two Mandarin – one of which looked as if it might be a youngster, but I’m really not sure. In the lane to and from the cottage, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Bullfinch.

After breakfast we whizzed down to Cley NWT to catch up with the reported White-rumped Sandpiper – a rare wader from North America. Good but slightly distant views, before something spooked the flock and it wasn’t reported again all day. We spent the rest of the day on the coast between Sidestrand and Happisburgh, looking for migrants – a good haul of Wheatear, Whinchat, Common Sandpiper and a Sanderling was our reward.

White-Rumped Sandpiper – a rare North American visitor to Norfolk


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Tuesday 16th August


Distant Hobby, over the Cromer Ridge

Yesterday afternoon I took the opportunity, between various gardening jobs, to survey the skies over the Cromer Ridge – with a mild easterly wind, I fancied that there might be a bit of raptor movement. However, in the hour I was watching, I only saw Hobby and Swift. The first sighting of the former was two birds which came low over the house, ariel ‘scrapping’ with each other and squawking, more like a parrot species than a falcon!  I later had two more sightings – possibly a different bird, high over the ridge. The Swift,  probably a migrant, was hawking over the cottage for ten minutes before, eventually drifting east.

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Sunday 14th August

I was leading an NWT bird walk at Cley yesterday. The biggest surprise of the morning came in the form of a female Mandarin Duck on Pat’s Pool – my first of this species at Cley, and perhaps explaining why there are so few at Felbrigg at the moment! Got home at lunch-time to be greeted by a spectacular Southern Hawker over our small garden pond. Unfortunately it didn’t sit still long enough to have it’s picture taken.

I did manage this one of a female Common Darter though , which was there at the same time


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Saturday 13th August


Purple Hairstreak at the allotment this afternoon

I was just on my way back from the allotment, with a cauliflower for our tea, when I noticed a dark-looking butterfly flitting around the tops of a nearby oak tree. A quick look through my binoculars and I was easily able to confirm my suspicions – it was indeed a Purple Hairstreak! This is a scarce butterfly in Norfolk – it frequents oak trees and rarely descends to eye-level.

On an earlier walk around Felbrigg I’d re-found the family party of Spotted Flycatcher, in the shelter-belt. There was at least one adult and two juveniles – probably more. On the lake, two surprises – a female or eclipse male Mandarin at the base of the dead trees, near the viewing screen and a winter plumage Little Grebe along the edge of the reed-bed. In the reeds on the opposite side of the top sluice track, a family party of Reed Warbler and, I’m pretty sure, a family of Sedge Warbler.

Adult and juvenile Spotted Flycatcher



Adult Little Grebe in winter plumage, Felbrigg Lake – my first here since early April

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Reed Warbler, one of the family party, still present on the water meadow