Aylmerton Nature Diary

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Tuesday 26th February


Following Friday’s day-time Tawny – now a Little Owl (1 of 3),7 in Felbrigg this afternoon

Despite the glorious weather, I spent most of the weekend indoors preparing my talk for Thursday night’s Bird Club meeting, on our Great American Birding RoAd Trip of last year. Cley NWT yesterday was good. Nothing particularly outstanding but several of the notable birds still around, including: White-fronted Geese, Snow Bunting, Peregrine, Mediterranean Gull and loads of Avocet. This morning was spent at Spurrell’s Wood on an extended work-party – the new bird hide is nearing completion and the recently created grass meadow, alongside the main northern ride, is now bramble-free! This afternoon I managed to get into the park at last. There were a few ducks of interest on the water meadows / lake – ten Tufted Duck, four Wigeon (male & three females) and four  Shoveler – all males. Two Tawny Owl were calling on the edge of the Old Deer Park (there was also one at Sustead Common this morning) and there were three Little Owl – two calling to each other in the south east corner of the dam and another sat in it’s favourite hole in Oaks between the lake and the hall.

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Saturday 23rd February


Sleeping Tawny Owl – Felbrigg Park

I get to see day-time Tawny Owl in the park perhaps once or twice a year on average – yesterday was one of those occasions. I was on the path between the back gate and the hall when my attention was drawn to an unfamiliar ‘lump’ in an old Sweet Chestnut tree. As I got closer I could see that it was a sleeping Tawny – another record for the current BTO survey.

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Thursday 21st February


One of five Lesser Redpoll seen in Felbrigg Park yesterday

The highlight of yesterday’s NENBC Felbrigg mid-week walk was undoubtably the five Lesser Redpoll, in the Silver Birch trees by Sexton’s Lodge carpark, at the start of the walk. There were just two records of this elusive species in the park last year. An added bonus were the two pairs of Stonechat – one on the rough grazing below the dam and the other on the fence line near The Warren. This is the largest recorded day-count for Stonechat in Felbrigg I can find.

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Wednesday 20th February


Barn Owl over Aylmerton Common.  Record shot at dusk – a 2019 ‘patch’ tick

The birding at Cley NWT on Monday was excellent and the weather was very benign. Highlights included 70 Avocet, the very approachable Snow Bunting flock along the shingle bank still, sub-adult Peregrine sat on Serpentine for most of the morning, up to ten White-fronted Geese in two family parties and the 1st winter Glaucous Gull. But perhaps the best wildlife sighting of the day was incredible views of an Otter swimming back and forth along the Catch-water Drain, near the bridge, for most of the day! I’d just got back home when Joe, our Chile-based son, informed me he’d just been watching a Barn Owl hunting over Aylmerton Common. A touch of deja vu from a few weeks ago! I got my kit together and headed off down the lane – fortunately the bird was still there, quartering the field. The light wasn’t good so only record shots were possible – still this is my first Barn Owl on the patch this year -yeh!

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Saturday 16th February


Finally caught up with this Jack Snipe at Felbrigg today after ten or more visits this year

Finally managed to get into the park this afternoon – first time in over a week. There were a reasonable number and variety of duck on the lake and water meadows, including 11 Tufted Duck, six Wigeon, five Shoveler and the usual populations of Mallard, Teal and Gadwall. In the rough grazing meadows below the dam single Common and Jack Snipe – this was about my tenth visit this year before finally catching up with the latter species. At Sustead Common, the usual mobile tit flock and a couple of Bullfinch was pretty much it.

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Wednesday 13th February


UEA students visit Spurrell’s Wood as part of our Norfolk Hawfinch Project

Not much birding over the passed few days. Cley on Monday was OK – the birds were mostly the same as last week but the weather was better. Today we met with third year students from UEA who are undertaking research in support of our Norfolk Hawfinch Project – a collaboration between NENBC & Felbeck Trust. We’ve posed some questions we genuinely don’t know the answers to – we look forward to being informed and educated. If we’re lucky we’ll get some practical advice about habitat management which will enhance the prospects of any visiting Hawfinch.

On the way back to the cars we spot some freshly emerged Earl Purple Orchids!


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Sunday 10th February


With all the over-night rain, the winter scrape at Sustead Common has filled up nicely!

Yesterday I was running a Waders & Wildfowl workshop at Cley NWT. We did a bit of ‘theory’ in the morning and then, after lunch, we braved the elements – westerly winds gusting up to fifty mph – to put what we’d learned into practice. Actually, we did surprisingly well just sitting for a couple of hours in the central hides. We saw five species of geese – including Barnacle & White-fronted – and had plenty of time to study the finer points of duck, gull, wader and raptor identification. This morning I was with the Felbeck Trust volunteers erecting nest-boxes on West Beckham Green, in support of the BTO’s National Nest-box Week. See the latest FT blog post for more details. As I was collecting the nest-boxes from Spurrell’s Wood, there was a Song Thrush in full song and a Blue Tit prospecting one of the boxes – Spring may not be too far away.

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Thursday 7th February


Dunnock, in full song down the lane – first hint of Spring?

In marked contrast to the last few weeks, yesterday was positively Spring-like. With temperatures reaching double figures it’s not surprising that nature responded. All down the lane and through the park there were birds singing – Dunnock, Mistle Thrush & Nuthatch were all holding forth – and there were plenty of Snowdrops pushing up under the hedgerows. On the lake the cob Mute Swan is becoming increasingly aggressive towards last year’s off-spring, in preparation for the coming breeding season. Further down Scarrow Beck I was pleased to find the wintering male Stonechat but unfortunately I couldn’t locate his mate – not seen since New Year. Meanwhile, back at the dam, the National Trust staff and volunteers were in the process of finishing-off  work on the spillway and new footbridge. Provided that ‘Dragon Corner’ quickly re-grows and there is some re-planting around the old out-flow, the scheme will, I think, have improved the overall habitat in this area of the park.

Great work on the part of team National Trust in finishing-off the work on the ‘river crossing’ and re-opening the footpath across the dam


On the disappointing side, however, I retraced my steps from the other day through Common Plantation and found a dump of around 30 new spent twelve-bore cartridges. Leaving aside the arguments about the dangerous proximity to the footpaths and the concern about what might be the intended prey, this is littering in the countryside on an unacceptable scale and although there are claims for ‘environmentally friendly’ gun cartridges, generally they are not bio-degradable!


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Tuesday 5th February


Digiscoped with Jane’s iPhone – adult White-fronted Goose, Letheringsett

It drizzled most of the morning at Cley yesterday, backed by a moderate south-westerly breeze. However, despite the weather, the birding was pretty good – with quality making up for quantity. Highlights included: two Peregrines over the reserve at lunchtime – what looked like a distinctly buff / brown 1st winter bird and an adult male? (still can’t clinch  these as the Cromer church birds yet), the flock of 40+ Snow Bunting, 1st winter Glaucous Gull, a pale-looking Barn Owl and four Barnacle Geese in with the Brent flock. On the way home we called in at Letheringsett, where the grazing Greylag Goose flock contained at least six White-fronted Geese – a mix of adults and juveniles. They were just inside the NENBC area boundary! All-in-all, a pretty good day’s birding.