Aylmerton Nature Diary

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Friday 31st August


Wheatear on the flint wall by the Weaver’s Way, Felbrigg Park

More sea-watching this morning. With even less promising weather – no wind to speak of and clear visibility to the horizon, I wasn’t hopeful but, actually, there were a lot of birds. Mostly ducks, moving west, (662 Teal in two hours) but in addition a single Bonxie (Great Skua), female Eider and a couple of Red-throated Diver. Afterwards we had a walk round Felbrigg Park where the highlights were three Hobby – at least one juvenile involved, and an obliging Wheatear on the flint wall, along the Weaver’s Way – thanks to James for the tip-off. No sign though of yesterday’s pair of Mandarin on the pond above the water-meadow.

Male (eclipse) and female Mandarin


Juvenile Hobby, already adept at catching dragonflies and eating them on the wing!



Hobby in Felbrigg Park


Hobby over Felbrigg – there are strong indications that they have again bred in the park

Since mid-July Hobby have been regularly seen in Felbrigg Park. I’ve not been reporting them to minimise possible disturbance, in the anticipation that they might again breed. I’ve seen adult birds on more than a dozen occasions, sometimes two together, always around the western shelter-belt, lake or Common Plantation area. Last Wednesday I reported an adult and probable juvenile over The Street – likely to be the same birds involved and indicating successful breeding. Since then I’ve only seen an adult on two occasions. All sightings now appear on the NENBC website. There was also a report of another possible breeding pair up in The Great Wood.

Sat atop it’s favourite look-out post – from which it would launch attacks on any passing raptor, including Red Kite, Buzzard, Kestrel & Sparrowhawk


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Thursday 30th August


Juvenile Black Tern fishing off-shore at Weybourne 

Late August can be a good time for sea-watching, particularly if there’s an on-shore wind and / or fog & rain. Yesterday morning was the first occasion for a while when any one of those elements has been present in our weather – rain-showers in the morning. So, we headed for the coast. Actually the rain came through rather later than forecast and, with a rather benign westerly breeze, any prospects of something good at Sheringham rapidly dissipated. A few Gannet, Sandwich Tern, Common Scoter and the odd wader was about it, so we decided to try for the Black Tern, seen for the last couple of days, at Weybourne. We arrived at the car-park, climbed the shingle ridge and started walking west. It wasn’t long before the distinctive outline of Black Tern – rather raptor-like, appeared further along the coast. We watched it for nearly an hour go back and forth along the shore-line between Weybourne Camp and the coastguard cottages. A nice bird.

In the afternoon I walked through the park on my way to and from Sustead Common. I’d gone to meet Patrick Barkham, natural history writer for The Guardian and author of Butterfly Isles, Badgerlands and Coastlines, to show him what Felbeck Trust has been doing at the site and tell him a little about our Spurrell’s Wood project. Birds of interest included a pair of Marsh Tit opposite Keeper’s Cottage and a couple of Red Kite between The Common and Brickfield Farm.

Red Kite – one of two, harassing a Buzzard near Sustead Common


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Wednesday 29th August


Stilt Sandpiper – Frampton RSPB, Lincolnshire – only my third in the UK

Yesterday morning we finished-off mowing the wild flower meadow areas at the church yard. A few Greenfinch in the Yew trees, a steady trickle of Swallows heading west and a Sparrowhawk, over The Street, on my way home all provided birding interest. At lunchtime I got a call from Phil, who persuaded me to go on an ‘out of County’ twitch to Frampton RSPB, for two American waders – Stilt Sandpiper and Long-billed Dowitcher. Unusually, they were ‘lined-up’ for us on arrival and we had reasonable, prolonged, views of both, followed by a cup of coffee and cake, before heading back, a little over an hour later. Two relatively late Swift over Bodham on the way there were a welcome bonus.

Record shot of Long-billed Dowitcher. My last one was at Cley NWT last summer


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Monday 27th August


Numbers of roosting Cormorant are increasing at Felbrigg – this morning there were 28

It rained most of yesterday – I know because we had our Felbeck Trust Scythe Training Day, kindly sponsored by NWT. By the time we came to finish at four o’clock we were all pretty damp! It was still wet under foot in Felberigg this morning and there was definitely an autumnal feel in the air. The dearth of small birds continues – a lone Blackcap ‘clicking’ in the hedge down the lane, a Robin singing in the shelter-belt and a couple of noisy Nuthatch in the Old Deer Park was about it. The female Mandarin was on the small pond above the water meadow when I got there, later flying towards the lake – where there were three Tufted Duck and a couple of Gadwall (I missed the Shoveler that Lee saw from the viewing screen side). No waders of any kind on either the water meadow or the lake – thank goodness ūüôā , but the number of roosting Cormorant continues to increase – this morning I counted 28. I walked over to the church and back across the sheep pastures in front of the hall, where there’s the usual late August build-up of Mistle Thrush taking place – I counted 42 but I may have missed a couple. There were several Common Gull in amongst the Black-headed another sign that Autumn is on it’s way.

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Sunday 26th August


Erratum – female Ruff at Felbrigg!

Not for the first time in this blog (and very probably not the last!) I find myself having to amend an identification. The record of ‘Dunlin’, posted on Friday, was of course a female Ruff – helpfully pointed out by Ian. My first thought on seeing the bird from a distance was indeed Ruff, but with nothing to compare size, a relatively brief view of it preening before it ran along the mud bank and flew off and, not seeing the expected ‘white lozenges’ on the tail-sides of that species, I plumped for Dunlin. I had a bit of a ‘brain-freeze’ about this bird, partly, I think, because I‚Äôve had a thing about seeing Ruff at Felbrigg and not daring to believe this was one, looked for an alternative. When I checked the few reasonable record shots I managed to obtained afterwards, I only looked for the id features of Dunlin¬†– a case of the ‘false positives’ I’m afraid! But apart from the momentary embarrassment, the good news is that it‚Äôs a ‘Felbrigg first’ for me and, surprisingly only the second record for the park – the first being seen and photographed by Andy Benson practically ten years ago to the day (30th August). And the moral of this tale, we all make mistakes when birding – it’s a great learning experience and what makes the hobby interesting. Second, yet again the value of photography – however poor the image, in helping establish the true identity of birds. The mind can do funny things and, based on relatively brief and partial information, can compute the wrong ‘answer’ – a photograph, available long after the event, is invaluable – providing you look at it properly that is! Thanks again Ian.

After the anxiety of the ‘wader moment’, I moved on to the lake and was surprised to see very few duck out on the open water. Perhaps the reason for that was…

An Otter, swimming close to the reeds at Felbrigg Lake!



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Friday 24th August


A handsome, if somewhat elusive Whinchat – The Warren, Felbrigg

I had a meeting at Felbrigg cafe on Wednesday morning, so I timed my walk around the lake accordingly. I had brief views of the Cuckoo (8th day) before moving on to the water meadow and lake. I couldn’t see any sandpiper species and there was no change on the wildfowl front, except I did see the Little Grebe over by the viewing screen and the Coot. I bumped into Nick et al on my way passed The Warren and they told me of a Wheatear in the gorse by the track. I looked briefly on my way up to the cafe but couldn’t see anything. After my meeting I retraced my steps and this time success – not a Wheatear but a handsome Whinchat sat briefly atop the gorse. This is an easy species to confuse in the Autumn – I’ve done it myself, so an excellent find Nick. On the way out of the park I saw two Hobby over the end of The Street – it looked to me like an adult and juvenile. More on this story in due course. I did go back in the afternoon and managed brief views of the Whinchat again, along with female Mandarin and a Green Sandpiper attempting to roost along the western edge of the lake.

Yesterday it was the best weather prospects so far this Autumn for a sea-watch. I spent three hours at Sheringham but apart from a single pale-phase Arctic Skua chasing Sandwich Tern close in, an exhausted Whinchat perched briefly on the railings, a couple of wader sp., lots of Common Tern passing east and lots of Teal going west, little else to get excited about. Oh well that’s sea-watching for you!

Record shot of adult Hobby over The Street


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Wednesday 22nd August

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Long-staying Caspian Gull, Cromer beach

I spent an hour or so yesterday morning on Cromer beach, looking for unusual gulls. I had to walk east from the pier as far as the beach-huts and then walk back, to get beyond the roost – avoiding disturbance and ensuring that the sun was behind me. One of the first birds I came across was, what I thought, a good candidate for the long-staying 2cy (second calendar year) Caspian Gull. It immediately stood out because of it’s overall structure, white head and dark-centred tertials. I spent some time watching it before moving on to look more closely at the other fifty or so gulls along the shoreline. Not finding the hoped-for Polish colour-ringed bird, I returned to the original bird. Before long it was disturbed and briefly took flight, allowing reasonable views of the pale under-wing and tail pattern.


Mark Golley, well-known Cley larid enthusiast, had this to say about it:

Your lovely shots are indeed¬†of a rather fine 2cy Caspian, what a handsome bird…¬†flight shot picks up a number of classic in-flight cachinnans features ~ you’re absolutely right to pick out the underwing/axillaries; the whiteness is almost¬†diagnostic of the species (and)¬†are spot on for 2cy cachinnans (YLG will still show a variable¬†degree of darkness across the same areas). The extensive smoky grey-brown shawl is shown nicely, as are¬†the smudged flanks. The tail pattern is shown nicely too, the lovely shape of a Caspian whilst the upperwing pattern, the contrast-y look given by the greys, brown and dark blackish trailing edge to the secondaries all add up to classic Caspian Gull.¬†

The colour-ringed bird was reported around the pier a couple of hours later!


A late afternoon walk in Felbrigg provided most of the same stuff as recently, with a couple of surprises. The first bird I saw on entering through the back gate was the juvenile Cuckoo – present for it’s seventh day now. No sign of any sandpipers, Green or Common, ¬†but the two family parties of Little Owl were calling furiously to each other – one near the ‘hollow oak’ (three birds) and the other in the south-east corner of the lake (two birds). The female Mandarin was on the lake whilst, what I assumed was probably Sunday’s female Marsh Harrier, flew over-head at 17.00. Through my binoculars I thought I could see some odd coloration, but it was mainly against the light and I had to wait to look at the photos to confirm that it was indeed wearing a red wing-tag on it’s right wing! So, definitely a different bird and possibly one from a ringing scheme in Kent – I’m in the process of checking.

Record shot of red wing-tagged Marsh Harrier over Felbrigg Lake


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Tuesday 21st August


Record shot of one of the two Snipe present on the water meadow, Felbrigg

We said farewell to the last of our visitors yesterday – the Chilean contingent, who boarded a train at Norwich, bound for London, Paris and Barcelona, before eventually flying home to Santiago. I managed to get into the park late afternoon. Nothing particularly exciting but a good round-up of our local birds. No further sign of the Cuckoo – pretty sure that’s now gone, but Green Sandpiper by ‘the ford’, with a Common Sandpiper roosting in the dead trees on the island. The female Mandarin was on the lake, along with Mallard, Teal, Gadwall & Shoveler. Water Rail was squealing loudly again from Boathouse Bay and there was a Little Owl calling from the Oak in the far south-east corner. On the return journey, two Snipe (courtesy of Di & Richard Farrow) were skulking in the Water Meadow – my first of the Autumn, though they have been reported by other local birders recently. But still a distinct lack of any small birds to report.

Little Owl, the Oak in the south-east corner of the lake


Another record shot – Common Sandpiper, roosting on ‘the island’


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Monday 20th August


Record shot of female Marsh Harrier, quartering fields south of the Weaver’s Way

Yesterday was the Nature Day at Mannington Hall, where NENBC / Felbeck Trust had a combined stand. Unfortunately, the attendance was poor and birdlife limited – we did have a Red Kite over the hall as we were packing up. In between times, three of my sons walked back along the Weaver’s Way. I met them in the park and was rewarded with good views of the juvenile Cuckoo and a female Marsh Harrier quartering the fields between the park and Metton. After a report of the Cuckoo being disturbed by a group of visitors, with kids and dogs in tow – walking through the water meadow fields yesterday afternoon, I was interested to see if it was still present this morning – which it wasn’t ūüė¶ The Green Sandpiper, however, was still at the ‘ford’ across the Scarrow Beck , north of the water meadow. There’s been a minor overnight change in wildfowl, with a group of six eclipse / female Shoveler and a female Teal, along with the regular Tufted, Gadwall & Mallard. At Boathouse Bay a Water Rail called loudly.

Juvenile Cuckoo, present for it’s fifth day in Felbrigg


Distant record shot of Green Sandpiper, near the ‘ford’, north of the water meadow