Aylmerton Nature Diary

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Saturday 27th January


Hawfinch in the car-park at Felbrigg Hall – too close to photograph properly

After the up-set of Aylmerton Common yesterday I took a long walk around the park. The number of wildfowl has increased of late – certainly since I did my WeBS count! On the water meadow there were a couple of pairs of Wigeon, 60+ Teal and the lone Egyptian Goose with two Canada and a handful of Greylag Geese. There were 40+ Tufted Duck  – no sign of either of the hybrids though, on the lake, with the usual Gadwall and Mallard flocks. The Grey Wagtail was along Scarrow Beck, at the out-flow. I walked over to the church and  went to examine the wreckage of the dead ‘dead tree’. As I approached I heard a Little Owl call from away to my left – this was quickly responded to by another, possibly two, coming from the other Oaks towards the hall, but despite examining every suitable roost hole I couldn’t find any sitting out. I bumped into Richard at the car-park where we talked about the recent lack of sightings of Hawfinch, concluding that they’d probably gone. We were just departing when Richard called out ‘Hawfinch’, as it flew into the bush right in front of me – really too close to photograph! It eventually flew off towards the hall, where I managed to relocate it in trees behind The Orangery, where it remained on show for a good fifteen minutes. I passed through Mallett’s Meadows on my return home, flushing a group of five Teal from the winter flooding.

Another, more distant shot, behind The Orangery. This female appears to me the sole survivor of the autumn influx



Friday 26th January


I started the week with an account of habitat destruction – the death of the ‘dead tree’, the home of Little Owl, brought down in the strong winds a few days before. I finish the week with yet more loss – this time the wanton destruction of habitat, home to Linnet and Bullfinch, hunting ground of Barn Owl and Buzzard and stop-over (in the last couple of years alone) for Ring Ouzel, Whinchat and Willow Warbler. Every tree and bush removed from Aylmerton Common – tragic!

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Thursday 25th January – Voting is open!


It’s been a busy week. Cley on Monday – very little out of the ordinary. On Tuesday we went to Norwich to stock-up on essential travel supplies – I did manage a minor diversion on the way home to look for wild swans, which have been few and far between this winter. Eventually located a small mixed flock of Whooper and Bewick’s, a few fields back from the Horning to Neatishead road. NENBC Committee meeting Tuesday evening then Felbeck Trust work / meeting yesterday – preparing for our next project, habitat restoration of several redundant allotments at Melton Constable.

The big news is that the Peoples Vote has now opened for Norfolk Country Council’s 2018 Eco Hero Award. I only agreed to be nominated in the hope that any publicity it generates will help raise the profile of Felbeck Trust – the trustees, volunteers and friends who are FT and our current campaign to raise money to purchase Spurrell’s Wood. Their are some genuinely worthy candidates – please vote by visiting the NCC ECO Awards website (click here) and please pass on the link to family, friends and acquaintances.

Spurrell's Wood logo large

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Sunday 21st January


Devastated – me and the tree! Favourite haunt of Little Owl – gone for ever. I declare three days of national mourning!

We’ve had Neil and a friend to stay this weekend so that, together with a Spurrell’s Wood work-party yesterday morning, has meant limited time for birding this weekend. It was WeBS duck count day today so we started off at the water meadows around ten o’clock. Nothing of note for the count – in fact both the number and variety of species was significantly down on the past week – that’s always the way on WeBS day! Once we’d finished the count we headed off towards the church, in search of Little Owl. We reached the top of the ridge looking over towards the church and ‘what the ….!!’ The dead tree, in the middle of the sheep pasture – favourite haunt of Little Owl, has been reduced to a pile of twigs – presumably by the strong winds of the other night. I was devastated! We continued on our walk, in somber mood and, other than a nice Fieldfare, saw little else of interest. This afternoon, to cheer my-self up, I went in search of the Glaucous Gull, reported on and off from Mundesley over the past few days. I eventually found it from the cliff-top path behind the church, before it moved steadily east along the coast towards Happisburgh. A very nice bird and an NENBC Year Tick.

1st Winter Glaucous Gull, Mundesley – quite a dark individual



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Thursday 18th January


Record shot of Hume’s Warbler at Waxham this afternoon

After the ferocious over-night winds, I went down to Sustead Common to check for any damage – fortunately there was none. The birds have been busy emptying the feeders though, I had to fill or top them all up. Plans to purchase and distribute timber for making-up nest-box kits, ready for assembly at our Felbeck Trust, National Nest-Box, event at Sustead Common on Saturday 17th February, took a nose-dive because the power was out in the whole of the greater Holt area. The timber is now being delivered tomorrow. This afternoon, I finally got around to going for the Hume’s Warbler at Waxham, which has been there for a couple of weeks. I picked up the gang from Gresham and we headed to Shangri-la for a long wait in the cold, resulting in a couple of fleeting glimpses and a few record shots. The last one of these rare phyllos I saw was at Gibraltar Point, in December 2013 – our Big Year

Another poor shot of this highly elusive individual, which only called once in two hours!


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Tuesday 16th January


Waxwing, one of three, Barford Road, Sheringham, this afternoon

For a non-birdy day – I seem to have spent most of my time indoors, keeping warm and doing ‘office work’, I’ve seen some really nice stuff! I was down at the Felbrigg Woodyard before it got light this morning, sorting out delivery of some timber to Sustead Common at the weekend. It was just getting light when I reached the Hall and started to look for Hawfinch. There was no sign of any around The Orangery but eventually I did find a single bird semi-hidden in an Oak behind the Hall. There was nothing of any particular note on the lake but I did hear at least two Song Thrush in full voice – another sign of Spring! This afternoon I had to go to the shops, so stopped-off at Tesco to look for Waxwing. I strolled around to Barford Road and quickly spotted them on their favourite telegraph pole, occasionally dropping down into a nearby garden to feed. Whilst getting my fill of these truly gorgeous birds, Simon told me about two Barnacle Geese on the golf course at Cromer which he’d seen this morning. I decided to have a crack at them, as one of a handful of glaring omissions on my NENBC List. I parked up at the practice ground and walked down the footpath towards the sea. The 1st winter Iceland Gull was immediately obvious, feeding on the 4th and the Barnacle Geese were on the opposite fairway! All in all, a pretty good non-birding day!

Barnacle Goose, an NENBC tick – probably of feral origin, but who knows


Iceland Gull – still present on the 4th fairway, Cromer Golf Course!


another shot of these absorbing birds, showing the ‘drops of sealing-wax’ on their wings


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Monday 15th January


The handsome male Black Redstart along the sea-front at Sheringham yesterday

Yesterday was busy – a whiz round Felbrigg early, followed by a guided walk, for Sustead residents, around Spurrell’s Wood and the afternoon spent catching-up with the Black Redstart, which has been present along Sheringham sea-front for the past few days.

Another grab-shot of the Hawfinch at Felbrigg – numbers seem to have dwindled now to just one or two


The most notable things around the park were a single Hawfinch in the conifers between The Orangery and the Hall, a lone Snipe, flushed from the Scarrow Beck, as I walked along the Weaver’s Way and a lovely bunch of Primrose in flower on a road-side bank, as I headed towards Sustead Common – Spring is coming! Nearly twenty people turned out for the walk – a good opportunity to explain what Felbeck Trust has been doing on The Common and to outline our intentions for the purchase and management of Spurrell’s Wood. See here for write-up. The Black Redstart gave itself up relatively easily – first appearing on the roof of one of the shelters along the Prom before flitting back and forth through the cliff-top gardens until dusk. Judging by the rain beating on the dining room windows this morning it’s going to be another challenging day at Cley NWT!

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500th post – Saturday 13th January

The other day, whilst I was out looking for Brambling, I came across the confluence of Scarrow Beck (which rises near Aylmerton village pond) and Gur Beck (which flows through Sustead Common), south east of the Felbrigg estate. The Scarrow Beck, as it is known from there on, flows through Hanworth and Aldborough, before joining the River Bure, just west of Ingworth and north of the Blickling estate. Improving the water quality of these two tributaries is a main target of the Upper Bure Valley Partnership.

Confluence of the Scarrow and Gur Becks


The weather over the past few days has been rather dismal, over-cast, damp and, at times, thick fog. I had a second attempt to find Shorelark at Happisburgh on Thursday but without success, despite another birder seeing them at virtually the same time as I was there. The fact that I couldn’t see more than thirty yards into the field may have contributed to my failure. I did manage to find Great Crested Grebe and Mandarin at Blickling, as a consolation prize, and had the opportunity to study the redpoll flock at Letheringsett ford – nicely within the NENBC recording area. After prolonged watching and a few false-starts we did manage to positively identify one, probably two, Coues’s Arctic and several Common (Mealy). Yesterday I was out in the afternoon looking at a couple of very interesting parcels of common land, with a view to Felbeck Trust doing some long-term habitat management work there. A hunting Barn Owl over one of the sites providing a promising omen!

All three redpoll species, photographed (at a distance!) at Cromer earlier in the week


Post-script: I’ve just realised that todays blog is my 500th post since AND was created!


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Tuesday 9th January


Record shot, in poor light, of three Hawfinch – Felbrigg Park

The day started well with an early walk through Felbrigg Park. We spent ten minutes or so opposite the Orangery but to no avail, so we wandered towards the car park. Looking through the gap between the Hall and the stable-block I noticed three chunky birds sat atop an Oak tree on the edge of the Old Deer Park – Hawfinch, ‘yes’! Fuelled by this success we continued down towards the church to look for Little Owl. We didn’t have to try hard – there was the usual bird, sat in one of the holes in the dead tree, and another hiding in a small Oak nearby – it’s presence betrayed by an alarming Blackbird. On to the lake, where the number of Tufted Duck has crept up to 32, including the two hybrids. On the water meadows a lone male Shoveler was a nice addition to the Felbrigg Year List, as were the two Shelduck, which flew straight through, heading north. By the time I’d loaded the reports on the Bird Club website, my NENBC total for 2018 was 98 –  just two short of the ton!

One of two Little Owl this morning – can you spot it at the entrance to it’s hole?


Male Shoveler on the water meadows


Two Shelduck flew over, heading north


I headed off to the coast, passing Cromer Golf Course on my way. It would have been rude not to pay my respects to the assorted Redpoll and the obliging Iceland Gull, which was strutting it’s stuff on the fairway behind the maintenance sheds. Acceptable views of all three Redpoll… I think! On to Happisburgh, where I failed to find any of the reported interesting small birds. Back to Weybourne where two flocks of Curlew were a welcome addition to the list. I was just on my way back to the car park when two small birds flew down to drink at one of the cliff-top pools. I lifted my binoculars and was amazed to find that they were Twite – showing their ‘give away’ yellow bills. They disappeared east just as quickly as they had arrived. Twite are never easy in the Club area so I was pleased to get them under my belt for the year.

The long-staying Iceland Gull at Cromer Golf Course


Twite, seen in the gloom, at Weybourne this afternoon – my 100th NENBC tick for 2018


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Saturday 6th January


The one that got away! Red-legged Partridge, taken near the Stone Cross, Aylmerton

I went to have another look for Brambling this morning at Sustead. There’s still a large mixed finch flock feeding on the cover crop, opposite Tudor House, which included Linnet, Chaffinch, Yellowhammer, Bullfinch and three Brambling – one, a nice male. I did a bit more hedge planting at Sustead Common before taking a drive round the local lanes this afternoon. Plenty of Fieldfare about at different locations. Best bird was a wintering Chiffchaff at Gresham sewage works, along with yet more Brambling.

Brambling at Sustead


Record shot of this afternoons Chiffchaff