Aylmerton Nature Diary

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Saturday 30th March


Coal Tit prospecting our garden bird box – taken through the lounge window

I had to top up the bird feeders at Sustead Common yesterday, so took the opportunity of a leisurely walk around Spurrell’s Wood to check on the nest-boxes. I saw activity at three boxes at least, all Blue Tit – but it’s a start. Talking of nest-boxes, I was delighted to see that one of ours, in the garden, was being prospected by Coal Tit yesterday. I’ve never managed to attract this species to a garden box before. My walk through Felbrigg Park in the afternoon produced some good sightings. Egyptian Goose on the water meadow, Little Grebe and Water Rail at the lake, Oystercatcher and Snipe at the rough grazing  meadow below the dam, Red Kite over the Hall and finally, Firecrest in the Great Wood. Still no Spring migrants other than Chiffchaff though. A very well attended Bird Club meeting in the evening, with a talk on birding in Australia, brought back many happy memories and we sold thirty copies of The Birds of Felbrigg Park – the public launch of which will be at Felbrigg, on Sunday 8th April. All profits from the sale of the book going to wildlife conservation.

Stunning Firecrest yesterday, Felbrigg Park


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Wednesday 28th March


Hawfinch in my neighbours garden

Just as soon as Spring appeared, it went! Yesterday was cold and wet so I did little birding  and caught up on some Bird Club & Felbeck Trust admin instead. The big surprise came when I was making a mid-morning brew and I looked out of the kitchen window. There, in the trees behind my neighbours house, was the distant but familiar shape of a Hawfinch – I thought they’d long-since departed! My birding day finished with the local Barn Owl out hunting in the drizzle near the village pond. A day full of surprises.

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Tuesday 27th March


The Egyptian Goose at Felbrigg Park seems to have attracted another mate – but, being early breeders, it may be too late for a brood this year, we’ll see

About time to! We were otherwise engaged over the weekend – helping with a ‘garden make-over’ at one of our sons new place near Huntingdon. Yesterday it was Cley NWT – best bird was a Spoonbill in the afternoon at Watling Water. Given that the weather is due to steadily deteriorate over the week, I decided to make the best of the late afternoon sun with a quick trip to Felbrigg. I’d just entered the back gate when there it was, my first singing Chiffchaff of 2018 – at last! It was one of those typical vocalisations you get from newly arrived birds, not quite right somehow in tone or tempo – like it was still warming up, but a Chiffchaff nonetheless. Unfortunately, I was on the wrong side of the tree to get a decent photograph. There was a second bird singing later on,  behind The Forge. On the water meadow there was a pair of Egyptian Geese, a pair of Wigeon and the male Shoveler. A Marsh Tit was busy in the Silver Birch near the viewing screen and there was the usual assortment of wildfowl on the lake. As I was walking back, a male Mandarin flew in over the water meadow and landed on the small pond at the north end but promptly disappeared from view.

Checking back through this blog, the Chiffchaff is nearly a week later than previous years – no doubt the recent weather has had something to do with that. It will be interesting to see how other Spring migrants are affected over the coming weeks. Sand Martin should be the next to put in an appearance, with Wheatear and Blackcap not far behind.

On the way back up the lane I spotted this handsome creature, resting on the Common


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Friday 23rd March


Amongst the first birds this morning at Haveringland Great Wood – roosting Tawny Owl

Neither of the bird-walks on Wednesday produce any surprises and certainly not a singing Chiffchaff, which is now over-due. Yesterday I was tied up in Norwich for most of the day. This morning I made a first visit to Haveringland Great Wood, accompanied by my guide Bob, to do a first quarter Index of Relative Abundance Survey. This location is right on the southern edge of the Club recording area, so I’m doing my bit to extend the reach of the Club and learn more about the birdlife across our area. There were no real surprises, just a good cross-section of farmland / woodland species with a few wildfowl on the near-by lake. This afternoon I was back in the park looking (and listening) for that elusive Chiffchaff. The ducks are beginning to return to the lake after the freeze-up – twenty or so Gadwall, a dozen Tufted Duck, a single male Shoveler on the water meadows and a nice Little Grebe. There was no sign of any Woodcock or Snipe but, as I emerged from Common Plantation, I was pleased to see a Red Kite (my first over the park in nearly 18 months) drift slowly south-east, towards Metton Carr. Minutes later I saw it, or another, back over the wood. As I watched, a total of four Red Kite appeared, slowly circling over the eastern boundary of the park! They were joined briefly by two Buzzard and a female Marsh Harrier, which carried on it’s way, slowly north east until disappearing out of sight over the Great Wood. Mistle Thrush were much in evidence around The Warren, posing for the occasional photo.

Four Red Kite together (joined briefly by a female Marsh Harrier) over Felbrigg Park


A nice photo of a relatively approachable Mistle Thrush near The Warren


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Wednesday 21st March


Singing Robin down the lane – still to hear my first Chiffchaff of the year

Yesterday afternoon was my first venture into the park since returning from Italy. There’s still little sign of any Spring activity other than a few singing Robin, Great Tit, Dunnock and Stock Dove. As I missed my WeBS count at the weekend I checked the water meadow and lake for wildfowl.  I was surprised just how few birds there were – less than twenty of the three ‘default’ duck species, Teal, Gadwall & Mallard and very little else besides. I did managed to find three lingering Woodcock in Common Plantation and a similar number of Snipe on the rough grazing meadow below the dam. A flock of forty Fieldfare were feeding on the grass bank, south of the Weaver’s Way, with a lone Redwing.

I did manage to collect a couple of NENBC area year ticks on my travels – the very smart and obliging Snow Bunting along The Esplanade at Sheringham and the male Goosander at Selbrigg Pond – the first one I’ve seen in the area since November 2015! Today it’s Felbrigg walks day with the Bird Club this morning and the National Trust Bird Walk this afternoon – I’m hoping for a seasonal surprise!

Record shot of the male Goosander at the far end of Selbrigg Pond


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Monday 19th March


Jay in Felbrigg a couple of weeks ago – retrieving buried acorns

Just returned from a fascinating cultural trip to Florence, see TrevorOnTour for highlights. Landing at Luton in sub-zero temperatures, with driving snow, on Saturday evening was exciting! Looking forward to a thermally challenging day at Cley NWT today – I’m afraid this is another week when the shorts will have to stay in the draw. Hope to be back on the patch at some point tomorrow, though looking at NENBC records for the park, it doesn’t look like I’ve missed a great lot.


Sunday 11th March


First view of the female Stonechat in the mist at Felbrigg this morning

The weather forecast was ‘100% rain’ when I got up this morning, but despite that I got dressed up in my waterproofs and headed for the park. I’m glad I did – it didn’t rain and there was some excellent birding to be had! The ‘bird of the morning’ was undoubtably a female Stonechat seen in the mist along the fence-line, above the water meadows. She eventually flew to the gorse bushes at The Warren and was still there on my return an hour later. As I was watching the Stonechat, a flock of 14 Wigeon appeared over the lake, circled several times, before heading off south-west. The male Shoveler remains on the water meadow. I flushed a Common Snipe from the rough grazing meadows below the dam and there was a singing Reed Bunting – if indeed you can call their scratchy utterances ‘song’, perched in the lone Hawthorn along Scarrow Beck. A Marsh Tit was calling in Common Plantation and a Grey Wagtail flew over me back at the outflow. I added several species which I’d missed on my Q1 Index of Relative Abundance survey a few days ago: Greylag, Linnet & Yellowhammer. A large flock of c.200 Fieldfare flew south over the grazing meadows on my return journey. It just goes to show there’s always something of interest in Felbrigg!

Flock of 14 Wigeon over the lake – they decided not to stop


Better views of the Stonechat on my way back home. A good bird for Felbrigg and third in a string of scarce birds over the past ten days, including Pintail and Jack Snipe


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Friday 9th March

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1st winter female Snowy Owl, first in Norfolk since 1991 – being mobbed by Red Kite

The past couple of days have been taken up mostly with Felbeck Trust stuff. I did manage to get out birding on Wednesday afternoon, doing a bit of gull-watching at Cromer. This morning I spent in Felbrigg, doing a Bird Club survey to support our Index of Relative Abundance project. After lunch I got a call from Phil telling me that there was a Snowy Owl on Scolt Head – the first in Norfolk since 1991! We picked up the Gresham Massive and headed for the coast. Being an island, viewing was only from the mainland, at Burnham Deepdale. The bird was visible on arrival, though distant – awesome! I saw the the 1991 bird, only it was in Lincolnshire at the time, so this was a Norfolk ‘tick’ for me.

Caspian and Iceland Gull on the beach at Cromer, on Wednesday



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Tuesday 6th March


Superb male Pintail this afternoon – only the 4th record for Felbrigg

Had a bit of a birdy day today. It started with a half-hearted raptor-watch at Swanton Novers, followed by a much more rewarding visit to the beach at West Runton. The extreme cold wether has brought tons of dead sea-creatures onto the beach and hundreds of gulls along with it. Quite a few waders as well – several new for the Club area this year. This afternoon I visited three sites, currently under discussion regarding Felbeck Trust involvement in the future, doing an initial bird and plant survey (Cornel did the plants). I got home, had a cuppa and brought my bird records up to date. Looking out of the window the sun was still shinning, so I decided to have a late visit to Felbrigg. Nothing much of note until I got to the lake. I was scanning for Tufted Duck when a strikingly pale-fronted duck appeared from the reeds in front of Boathouse Bay. It was a superb male Pintail – only the 4th record for Felbrigg. I wandered off down the rough grazing meadows to watch two hunting Barn Owl, glowing gold in the setting sun. By the time I’d got back to the lake Phil & Lee had responded to my text and we all enjoyed good views of the Pintail, which had temporarily relocated to the water meadows.

One of two Barn Owl hunting over the rough grazing meadow below the dam