Aylmerton Nature Diary


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Sunday 31st March

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Success – after nearly four hours of hard work – the Peregrine box is installed on Cromer church tower – just the roof to go on. From left to right, Kim, Chris, Tim & Zoe

The big bird news locally is that, following a joint site assessment of Cromer church by  NENBC / Hawk & Owl Trust on Thursday, and a meeting of the Parochial Church Council that evening, approval has been given to instal a temporary nest-box for the Peregrines! With absolutely no time to lose (the birds have already been mating for two weeks) Zoe, from H&OT, did a fantastic job by sourcing a box overnight and we installed it on Friday morning! Unfortunately, being somewhat larger and grander than the original proposal – a dog basket with gravel in the bottom – it got stuck two thirds the way up the tower! Eventually we had to admit defeat and saw it in half, in situ, then reassemble it on the roof. Tomorrow we are making a return visit and, if all is well, installing a live video link into the church. We’ve already recruited thirty NENBC member volunteers interested in staffing a watch point, should the birds oblige by producing some off-spring.

The box, firmly wedged, near the top – requiring major surgery!

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..and the point of all this – these fabulous bird! Photo courtesy Bob Cobbold

PEREGRINE FALCON 25A 2019 CROMER FEMALE

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Thursday 28th March

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Kittiwake in winter plumage, Ferry Meadows, Peterborough – an old ‘patch’ tick

We’ve been over in Peterborough for the past couple of days. The main purpose of our visit, apart from catching up with family & friends, was for me to give a talk to our old bird club. Whilst we were there we did manage of course to do some birding  – three Smew and a Kittiwake being the highlights – the latter an addition to my PBC list! On our way back yesterday we met up with the UEA students doing our Norfolk Hawfinch Project at Lynford Arboretum. With Jane staking out the feeding station, me watching the paddock and Janice and the students running in between, we did manage to eventually pin a few down! It was a great moment being able to share with them their first views of live Hawfinch – possibly the only birds in Norfolk this winter.

Male Smew, with two ‘Redheads’ at Bainton pits

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An obliging Cetti’s Warbler 

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Our UEA students enjoying their first views of Norfolk Hawfinch

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Sunday 24th March

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Highlight of Felbrigg WeBS count – four Grey Heron touched down before flying on west

Yesterday I was up early – first to check on the Peregrine situation, followed by a walk along the cliffs from Cromer to Overstrand, returning along the beach. The Peregrines were sat on the pinnacles of Cromer church from 06.30 at least. They were well observed by resident and visiting birders throughout the day – last reported at dusk. My walk to Overstrand and back produced very little except my first NENBC Fulmar of the year and a metal ringed Great Black-backed Gull sat on the groynes. In the afternoon I walked back through Felbrigg, where the birding highlight was six Buzzard and a Red Kite over the eastern boundary of the park. One of the Buzzards was the strikingly white wintering bird which shows a distinct pale rump! This morning it was WeBS count. After a cold night, with a touch of ground frost, the early morning sun and clear light made for some excellent birding. I’d finished my duck count by the time I got to the south east corner of the lake – I scrutinised the ‘corner Oak’ and sure enough the Little Owl was sat-out sunning itself. Three Pied Wagtail along the dam wall were joined briefly by a female Grey Wagtail on the newly created spillway. In the shelter belt, by the viewing screen, several Nuthatch and a single Marsh Tit were waiting to be fed. It was whilst I was watching these that I heard the raucous call of Grey Heron. Nothing unusual there I thought until I looked up and saw four birds circling the Cormorant roost, before flying on west. I don’t remember ever seeing this many together at Felbrigg before. Further along the trail I looked up at a pale bird in a tall Oak, only to see a superb male Brambling, which gradually made its way towards Stone Cottage, accompanied by a female. Felbrigg birding at it’s best!

The strikingly pale wintering Buzzard at Felbrigg – possibly of Eastern European origin

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On the newly created spillway – female Grey Wagtail

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In the nearby ‘corner Oak’ – the resident Little Owl

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A reasonably late pair of Brambling in Stone Cottage garden

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Friday 22nd March

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Magnificent male Peregrine – Cromer church

I spent most of yesterday morning (and too much of the afternoon to!) watching the Peregrines at Cromer church. Both birds appear to be adult, although the female does seem slightly browner on the back to me, and neither bird looks to be ringed. They spent a lot of their time sitting on one of the four corner pinnacles of the tower or investigating  the ledge below the roof. On several occasions they were seen to copulate – calling noisily to each other before doing so. From time to time one or other bird would take a brief flight around the tower but they were never absent for long. I didn’t see either bird take any prey items whilst I was watching them. The birds were present from 10.00 – 15.00 at least. On behalf of the North East Norfolk Bird Club and local Cromer birders I’ve been in regular contact with the PCC and the Hawk & Owl Trust – there’s to be a site assessment next Thursday. The guys at the Cromer Museum were also very interested when I spoke to them and welcomed the suggestion (should it become necessary) to have a Peregrine ‘watch point’ set up on the terrace by the entrance to the museum. During the time I had my ‘scope set up I had a near-constant stream of passers-by asking what was going on – with everyone I spoke to thinking it would be a great addition to Cromer life – more for visitors and locals to look at.. and fewer pigeons too! Another good place, if you want to get slightly less neck-bending views of the birds, is the area by North Lodge Park community cafe –  where you can get a nice cup of coffee and cake in to the bargain!

The significantly larger and slightly browner female

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The two together – taken from Cliff Avenue

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Thursday 21st March

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First birds of interest on our Felbrigg NENBC mid-week walk – a pair of Oystercatcher 

Yesterday was Felbrigg walks day – NENBC mid-week walk in the morning, followed by National Trust Bird Walk in the afternoon. Highlights of the first were a pair of Oystercatcher on the water meadows – my first here this year, the usual assortment of ducks – though the numbers are declining rapidly if not the variety, three singing Chiffchaff – my first of the Spring and an obliging Little Owl in the Oak at the south-east corner of the dam – eventually seen by all 25+ in the group. Over lunch I found singing Firecrest at the back of the Hall – subsequently relocated on the NT walk. Other highlights included a second Little Owl – in Oaks near the Hall, and more singing Chiffchaff. A pretty birdy day over all.

The day’s highlight – a singing Firecrest

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First singing Chiffchaff of the Spring – there were three+ around the lake

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Other wildlife interest included several species of butterfly – here is Red Admiral

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and frog / toad spawn, which always seems to appear out of nowhere

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Monday 18th March

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At last – a new bird on the patch – female Pintail, Felbrigg water meadows

After the horrible weather of last week – most of which we missed fortunately – it was good to get back into the park for an early morning walk. Most of the birding interest was on the water meadows – where the water levels remain high. The usual selection of wildfowl, but this time including a couple of the Tufted x Ferruginous Duck hybrids – one probably second generation – and a nice surprise – a female Pintail! There’s only been a handful of records of this species at Felbrigg, which is perhaps surprising given the regular wintering flock just along the coast at Cley. Other Felbrigg highlights included two Water Rail calling to each other from the reed-bed and several resident species in full song – one Mistle Thrush could be heard half way across the park. At Cley NWT the highlight was a superb male Wheatear – my first summer migrant of 2019. Supporting cast included Barnacle & White-fronted Geese still, Snow Buntings and the sub-adult Peregrine.

First generation hybrid Tufted x Ferruginous Duck – note the dusky flanks with pale edging, chestnut ‘mullet’ on an otherwise green head and the pale lemon eye

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and now, what I suspect is 2nd generation – this one with a white ‘backside’ but messy front end (right-hand bird)

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finally, ‘bird of the day’ at Cley NWT – male Wheatear, taken with iPhone

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Sunday 17th March

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Peregrine still on Cromer church – photo courtesy of Andy Hale

We’ve been away on a mini-break, touring the West Country and South Coast, looking at National Trust properties built or renovated during the Arts & Crafts period. I’ll put a post on TrevorOnTour in the next few days, with some photos. Fortunately it doesn’t look like I’ve missed out on much nature watching here – although there have been continuing reports of Peregrine on or around Cromer church over the past couple of days! If these are just wintering birds they should really have departed by now.