Aylmerton Nature Diary

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Saturday 30th December


Redshank, Mallett’s Meadows this morning – a scarce bird in the Aylmerton area

Went for a morning walk around a very soggy Felbrigg Park, with sons Josh & Jake, after doing an interview for Radio Norfolk, updating them on our first year at Felbeck Trust. For the gist of the interview go to the blog post on the Felbeck Trust website. I got back home to discover an email from Lee announcing the presence of a Redshank on Mallett’s Meadows an hour and a half earlier! I grabbed my stuff and drove round to the Village Hall, only to discover I’d got a flat tyre – fortunately the Redshank was still there!! This was my first patch record since the Bird Club was formed three years ago and a scarce bird in the greater Felbrigg area. Thanks Lee for the ‘heads-up’. It took me the next three hours to get the puncture fixed.

Post Script – didn’t realise at the time but this was obviously an Aylmerton Nature Diary ‘tick’ (all the birds I’ve seen in the parish & park since I started this blog) – bringing my total to 151!

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Friday 29th December


Magpie – a bird I don’t feature regularly in the blog. Not perhaps many peoples favourite species but very handsome all the same – this one was in pines at the edge of the village

We spent a lovely Christmas in Cambridgeshire at Matt’s place, with all the UK-based boys. Not a lot of time spent birding but we did add Wren and Woodpigeon to their new garden list and planted a couple of Rowan and a Crabapple tree, in the hope of attracting  some winter Waxwing in years to come!

The weather here on Wednesday was pretty wretched so it was yesterday morning before I managed to get out on the patch. I took the long way round, past the hall, to the lake in the vain hope of finding Hawfinch – which I did not. The water meadow was frozen so all the wildfowl was on the lake. Nothing new but I did find the hybrid Tufted x Ferruginous Duck amongst the Tufties, a single Wigeon and heard the Water Rail in the reed-bed. I continued on through Common Plantation – no sign of any Woodcock, past the Field Study Centre and on to Sustead Common. Here there was nothing new either, but the feeders are obviously being well used – probably explains the patrolling Sparrowhawk, and the water levels in the beck were the highest I’ve seen since visiting the site. It’s good to see the newly created winter scrape doing it’s job. I called in the park on the way home, the only notable thing being the appearance of fifty or so Teal along the margins of the water meadow.

The hybrid Tufted x Ferruginous Duck (far right) showing a chestnut rather than purple crown, no ‘tuft’ and smokey flanks


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Friday 22nd December


Bank Vole, beneath the feeding station, Sustead Common – at least I hope that’s the correct id (thanks James!)

Wednesday was the last event in the NENBC 2017 calendar – the Felbrigg mid-week walk. It was a good turn-out – shame that wasn’t true of the birds, with two Little Owl, near the church, being the stand-out sighting of the walk. Yesterday I did a bit more work on the viewing screen at Sustead Common before spending the rest of the morning in Spurrell’s Wood, with Cornel & Peter, refining our habitat management plans for the coming winter work-parties. Full details on the Felbeck Trust website. In the afternoon I was back at the viewing screen for more carpentry before enjoying a glass of wine with Peter & Phillipa. This morning I had the real pleasure of a three hour guided walk with Richard, the Head Ranger, around the Felbrigg estate – visiting parts I’d never been to before! He showed me, long-forgotten roads – closed by previous owners of the Hall, to keep the unwashed public away, a Bronze-age burial mound, old iron smelting and brick making works, the largest Hornbeam in the park, hidden ponds in Bays and Ash valleys  and the site of the tragic incident in 2007 when four school children were crushed under a falling tree. That must have been a terrible time for all those involved. This afternoon I decided to spend an hour actually looking at the wildlife of Sustead Common! There were the regular species coming to the feeder – Blue & Great Tit, Dunnock, Robin, Chaffinch and Blackbird – briefly joined by a Jay. A Tawny Owl called several times from along the hedge and a Kestrel sat motionless in the dead Oak by the entrance to Spurrell’s Wood. But best of all though were the two Bank Vole feeding on the spilled seed, underneath the feeders. A mammal tick for the site I think.

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Tuesday 19th December


Felbrigg Hall, in the late afternoon sun. Sometimes, in my haste to look for birds, I forget just what an awesome place this is!

There were no stand-out birds at Cley NWT yesterday – pretty quiet all round actually. This morning we had an impromptu work party at Sustead Common, building a screen to avoid disturbance to the birds on the feeders and putting a cover over the seated area. This afternoon I did manage to get into the park and enjoy the late afternoon sunshine. The water meadows and most of the lake were frozen, concentrating the ducks into one relatively small, un-iced, area. I counted 88 Mallard – a bit of a winter peak, whilst Tufted and Wigeon numbers are definitely down. I had good views of two different Water Rail – one around the wet woodland area opposite the viewing screen, the other at the top sluice. No sign of the bird on the Scarrow Beck, just inside the back gate, but a nice Grey Wagtail there. 13 Common Snipe were in the rough grazing meadow below the dam.

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Sunday 17th December


Lovely male Brambling yesterday at Sustead – unfortunately this photo is from the internet

I came through Sustead yesterday on my way back from Norwich with some more building materials to finish off (I mean it this time!) the viewing screen on The Common. I’d just passed Big Fen field when I saw a small group of Chaffinch in the road. They flew up into the nearby Hawthorns and, as I scanned the group, I spotted a handsome male Brambling sat out nicely in the sunshine – only problem was, I didn’t have my camera with me! This was only my second of the Winter – they’re such lovely birds. Hopefully we’ll see some more today as it’s our last Bird Club weekend outing of 2017 – an all-day affair, visiting Holkham Hall and woods – could be cold!

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Thursday 14th December


A skein of Pink-feet heads west in the afternoon sunshine

Monday we were at Cley NWT. Tuesday was mostly taken up with a work-party at Sustead Common. Yesterday it was the Bird Club AGM and Christmas Social, so not much scope for getting out. This morning I was back at Sustead Common showing the District Valuer around – there were plenty of birds using the recently created feeding station, take a look at the Felbeck Trust blog for more details. Finally, I managed to get into the park this afternoon. On the way down The Street several skeins of Pink-feet flew over and the Water Rail was showing well, just inside the back gate. No change on the lake and only Common Snipe on the rough grazing meadow below the dam. I walked back via the sheep pastures and although there were plenty of gulls, widely distributed across the fields, there was no sign of the Glaucous Gull – I think we’ve had it with that one. No sign of the Hawfinch either – although one was reported at The Orangery still, yesterday. A nice flock of 25 or so Linnet, which Lee had mentioned the other day, were gathering in the old Oak near Sawmill Cottage on my way home.

Linnets have returned in numbers to Aylmerton Common


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Sunday 10th December


Distant male Parrot Crossbill – Santon Downham

Yesterday we took a trip to the Brecks to look for the Parrot Crossbills at Santon Downham. It was very cold but mostly sunny all day. When we arrived at the car park the birds had just flown off, but a birder helpfully pointed out the direction they’d headed in, so I went in pursuit – unfortunately, Jane, Bob and Sue failed to follow! I eventually located them in some dead Poplars, coming down to a stream to drink. Good, if rather distant, views of a dozen or so birds, including several bright males. Alas, by the time the others caught up, they’d departed – not to be seen in the next three hours of generally standing around 😦 Later a pager message announced that they had reappeared at the car park, just ten minutes after we left – gnash and double gnash! We called in at Stiffkey campsite on the way home and managed to see a female Hen Harrier, Merlin and possible Peregrine which, together with the four Purple Sandpiper, Rock Pipit and dozens of diver – all Red-throated except one Great Northern at Sheringham first thing, made for a pretty good December days birding.

Today it’s WeBS count at Felbrigg – oh joy, since it’s currently raining and forecast to continue till dark!

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Friday 8th December


Water Rail, just inside the back gate – Felbrigg park

Had a nice long walk this afternoon with birding friends Bob & Sue. We went looking for the Glaucous Gull in the park but with low expectations – just as well as there was no sign again. Best bird in the park was a Water Rail on Scarrow Beck, just inside the back gate. At Sustead Common there were plenty of birds around the feeders, including a flock of 24 Long-tailed Tits. In Spurrell’s Wood a nice Treecreeper – a first for the site since we started recording. We managed to clock-up a total of 41 species during the walk – not a bad total for this time of the year.

Treecreeper, Spurrell’s Wood, Sustead Common


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Thursday 7th December


Plenty of big gulls in Felbrigg today – just not a ‘white-winger’!

It was early afternoon before the rain stopped and I could get out into the park to look for the Glaucous Gull. Unfortunately, no sign of it in a two hour search of all the pastures between the hall and the southern boundary of the estate. Oh well! There were quite a few gulls present in several rather mobile flocks so it’s just possible I over-looked it. I’ll have another go tomorrow. Highlights of todays walk – a lone Egyptian Goose and the Jack Snipe still present on the rough grazing meadows, south of the dam. No sign of the yesterdays reported Hawfinch though.