Aylmerton Nature Diary

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Tuesday 31st October


Grey Wagtail, in the late afternoon sun – Scarrow Beck

It’s the end of October and still very mild – there were clouds of insects up the lane as I returned from my afternoon walk around the park. Nothing particular of note, just a good selection of the resident species and plenty of wildfowl on the lake. The Little Egret was perched in a tree near the viewing screen, later flying to feed in Boat-house Bay. The Gadwall numbers are still creeping up, at least 180 now present, along with a dozen or so Tufted Duck, ten Wigeon and four Teal. There was a lovely 1st winter Grey Wagtail feeding on the out-flow and five Meadow Pipit in the rough grazing meadow below the dam. A female Bullfinch was, unusually, sat out in a Hawthorn by the edge of the water meadow, with another two on the outskirts of the village. This morning I took a trip to Sustead Common, where there were yet more Bullfinch, a couple of Golden Plover and three Fieldfare flying over, five Siskin feeding in the Alders and, best of all, a Woodcock, flushed from the side of the Gur Beck, near the connecting foot-bridge.

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Sunday 29th October


Kingfisher – alas, not the Wycoller bird, which was too quick for me, but one I photographed last week, just 50m outside the NENBC area!

Before departing for home this morning I stopped on the stone bridge, which spans Wycoller Beck, for a final look for the Dipper. No luck this time but a very close Kingfisher! By the time we got back to Aylmerton it was just beginning to get dark but I did manage a quick whizz around the lake. Nothing out of the ordinary – Wigeon numbers have increased to 15, there was a handful of Tufted Duck – no sign of the Tufted x Ferruginous hybrids, and still plenty of Gadwall. A Little Owl called from the dead Oaks between the Hall and the lake. Best bird was a Grey Wagtail on Scarrow Beck, below the dam. I did make it back home before it got dark though! Tomorrow is my Cley day.


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Saturday 28th October


Dipper, Wycoller Beck, Lancashire

We’re up in Lancashire celebrating Victor’s birthday –  Jane’s dad is 88 and very much still in the ‘now’! At the bottom of her sister’s garden is Wycoller Beck, home to a lovely pair of Dipper – how good would it be to have one of these appear on Scarrow Beck this winter? Today I took a nostalgic trip back to the Dales village location of our first ever house – Cow Cottage. So named, according to village folklore, because on one occassion, on their way to milking, one of the herd broke free and entered the house through the open front door. The cow then proceeded to get stuck half way up the cottage stairs, which led off the kitchen. The only way to get the poor beast out was to drive it upstairs, into the bedroom, turn it round and return it head-first and back out onto the street. You can only imagine the mess! I continued on, in the damp grey drizzle (which is as much a feature of this part of the world as the sheep and stone walls), to Malham Tarn where I spent several happy years operating a constant effort bird ringing site. In those days the tarn was the most densely populated area for breeding Willow Warbler in the UK – I very much doubt that’s the case now. On my way home I passed through the tiny settlement of Bell Busk, the location of my first ever White Stork in Britain! Extract from the 1984 Yorkshire Naturalist’s Union Ornithological Report:

ynu_org_uk_sites_default_xyzerrt_documents_birds_ORNITHOLOGICAL_20REPORT_20FOR_201984_pdfHow time flies!

Cow Cottage in the Yorkshire Dales


Malham Tarn – one-time constant effort ringing site (more effort than reward I’d have to say!) I couldn’t actually see the tarn in the mist – so the sign will have to suffice 





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Friday 27th October


Little Egret still along Scarrow Beck, south of the dam, Felbrigg 

Yesterday morning was our first Felbeck Trust work-party in Spurrell’s Wood, removing tree guards and gapping-up the boundary hedge in the south west corner. The weather remaining warm and still, most of the afternoon was spent on a leisurely walk through the park. My first encounter came down the lane whilst scanning the Hawthorn bushes on the northern edge of Aylmerton Common. A small flock of migrant Blackbirds were making their way steadily west. Although initially side-on, one of these birds showed a distinct white throat patch. It turned towards me briefly before dropping down to the bottom of the bush and out of sight. It was a male Ring Ouzel, my first of the autumn. By the time I’d got round to that side of the field the flock had moved on. Once in the park, I took the shelter-belt path towards the lake – plenty of resident bird activity including nice views of Nuthatch. Nothing particularly interesting on the water meadow – the vegetation is still too high, and nothing new on the lake either. I was working my way down the Scarrow Beck, looking for the Stonechat, when the unmistakable call of a Green Sandpiper ‘exploded’ in front of me. The bird circled up, high over Melton Carr, before heading towards the lake. My first sighting here in nearly two months. The Little Egret was still present further down the beck but there was no sign of the Stonechat – pity. A lone large blue/brown dragonfly over the lake and flying through the surrounding trees was, I suspect, a late Migrant Hawker. On the way back along the central path, a female Reed Bunting in the reed-bed and a nice party of five Siskin feeding in the Hawthorn, north of the water meadow, added more interest to a lovely walk.

Yesterday evening was the NENBC indoor meeting with an excellent talk by Francis Farrow on the Mammals of North Norfolk. During his presentation I was reminded of a ‘mouse encounter’ on Sustead Common this summer. Whilst moving a decaying log-pile I disturbed a large golden coloured mouse, which quickly scuttled off into the hedgerow. Best description I could come up with at the time was ‘like a Hamster, with a tail’! Consulting the book, the nearest thing I could find was Dormouse, but it didn’t have a bushy tail and, I now learn, aren’t found in Norfolk. I’m now wondering about the unlikely possibility of Yellow-necked Mouse?

A grab-shot of Green Sandpiper, over Metton Carr


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Wednesday 25th October


First winter male Stonechat – rough grazing meadow, south of the dam, Felbrigg

Yesterday morning we had stuff to do in Cromer, so I took the opportunity of another walk along the sea-front, looking for seabirds and late autumn migrants. Unlike the other day the tide was in and there was virtually no beach exposed west of the pier. Once I got to the east side, where the boats were pulled up on the shingle, I noticed a mixed flock of roosting gulls – fifteen or so Great Black-backed, a few Black-headed and the rest were Herring of varying ages. One of these Herring-type quickly caught my attention as it sat nestled between the other gulls. It was a little smaller, perhaps a shade darker on the back, clean white head with a delicate dark eye, a pronounced butter-coloured  ‘snout’ and, when it eventually stood up, long, thinnish, yellowy grey legs. I noticed on the underwing, long off-white tongues on the outer primaries. It was eventually flushed by a couple of kids and their dog, when I watched it head out to join the other gulls on the sea. I was pretty confident this was an adult winter Caspian Gull – it’s identification, however, confirmed only once I looked at the photos, read the literature and ‘phoned a friend’.

Adult winter Caspian Gull, Cromer sea-front


We were joined for lunch by our good birding friends Bob & Sue and by Andy and his daughter Anna from Bermuda, followed by an afternoon in Felbrigg Park. A Grey Wagtail, along The Street, got the walk off to a good start. Amongst the 54 species recorded in the park were my second Stonechat of the year, Little Egret – my first since early May, a flock of 25 Lapwing and the usual mix of resident woodland birds and wildfowl. All-in-all a pretty good days local birding!

Little Egret, seen in the same binocular view as the Stonechat – first in the park since May


On the way home, Anna spotted this little fella in a neighbours garden!


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Monday 23rd October


Wheatear at Horsey – wheatear sp can be tricky at this time of the year – the thing to concentrate on is the pattern of the tail. This one shows the inverted black ‘t’, which confirms the id. Later in the autumn, birds showing a near- complete black tail are possibly something far more exciting – Desert Wheater!

Although I did do some birding over the weekend, it was mostly out of the parish. The NENBC walk on Saturday at Horsey went well, attracting ten participants – we recorded over forty species, including: Chiffchaff, Wheatear, Stonechat, Mediterranean Gull, Redwing and Marsh Harrier. Yesterday I went in search of Rock Pipit – a scarce winter visitor in the Club recording area. I found one at Weybourne, west of the beach carpark and another at Sheringham, at the eastern end of the Prom. Neither were particularly obliging though. Today it’s volunteering again all day on the reserve at Cley.

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Saturday 21st October


Fungi sp., Felbrigg – taken in late August

Yesterday morning we held our first Felbeck Trust Fungi Foray at Sustead Common. The event was led by Dr Tony Leech, one of the UK’s leading experts, and we also benefited from having James along, adding his considerable knowledge across a wide range of flora & fauna. We ended up with a good potential list of fungi, but with confirmation of many of the identifications being subject to closer scrutiny in ‘the lab’. On the bird front Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Pink-footed Geese, Tawny Owl and Siskin all added to the enjoyment and a reminder of the overall wildlife value of these ‘pocket reserves’. Thanks to both Tony and James for a very enjoyable & interesting morning.

By contrast, in the afternoon I walked the entire length of Cromer sea-front in the hope of finding something interesting. No gulls, waders or sea-birds of any note (mind you the tide was out) nor any passerines, with the exception of a single Meadow Pipit feeding on the grass by the boating lake, on my way back to the car park – clearly a migrant. Many years ago I did see a lovely Hoopoe on this same patch of grass! This morning its the NENBC monthly weekend bird walk – we’re off to explore the coast around Horsey Gap. I hope it proves more interesting than Cromer!