Aylmerton Nature Diary

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Thursday 30th May


Four singing Reed Warbler, between the water meadows and Boathouse Bay, this morning

Just before we went away I saw an article by the BTO saying that reported numbers of summer visitors were running at about the average. I’m not sure if that’s true for our part of Norfolk – it certainly feels like numbers are generally down – but having said that, on a quick walk round the park this morning – my first in nearly two weeks – there were the usual suspects: Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Whitethroat, and I was pleased to see / hear four singing Reed Warblers in the reed-bed. There is still a pair of Gadwall on the water- meadows and three Lapwing hanging about – but no sign of any youngsters. The lake was pretty deserted – just the family party of Mute Swan, a pair of Coot, a handful of Mallard and a Grey Heron. Along the western shelter-belt the pair of Oystercatcher were calling close by and a Red Kite drifted over. Back in the village I counted six Swift chasing each other. The notable omission still is Spotted Flycatcher – usually the last summer visitor to arrive – but the end of May is beginning to be a bit late. Could this be the first year since I started watching the park in 2000 that they haven’t appeared?

The only Whitethroat I can find this year – this morning singing from up a 50′ Oak tree!

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Wednesday 29th May


Canary Islands Chat – a bit of a cross between Stonechat & Whinchat. One of the highlights from a recent birding trip to Fuerteventura

Back from our week away on Fuerteventura – you can read about the highlights in Return to Fuerteventura – ten years on on my other blog.

In other news, the Cromer Peregrines have hatched all three eggs – a minor miracle I’d say! I look forward to catching up with their progress in the coming days.


















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Sunday 26th May


Our first Cromer Peregrine chick – photo courtesy of Chris Skipper

I interrupt this holiday to bring you the fantastic news that we have a Peregrine chick at Cromer – hatched yesterday at around 09.00. I only wish I could have been there! Normal posting will resume shortly.

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Monday 20th May


Record shot of Bluethroat, Spalla Gap – an NENBC tick no less. For a superb selection of really good images, visit the NENBC website gallery!

The NENBC ‘Skywatch’ event yesterday was a bit of a wash-out – well ‘white-out’ actually, as it remained frustratingly foggy all day. There was no visible raptor migration to speak of, just a few local Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Buzzard hanging about. No sign of the Wood Warbler near the main entrance to Felbrigg when I drove up either. The afternoon was made all the more dismal when the NENBC text alert service announced a Bluethroat at Spalla Gap! I’d got to cut the allotment grass, in advance of going away, and we had folks coming for supper – so no possibility of dashing down there to see it. ‘Let it go Trev – it’s only a bird’ I told myself! Fully expecting it to have moved on this morning, we drove straight to Cley. Once there however the messages started pouring in -‘Bluethroat still present and showing well’! We persuaded ‘management’ to let us go and look for it – which we then did. Brief but convincing views were obtained before yomping back to the car – we were back at our posts by 11.00. Interesting birds on the reserve were few and far between – Spoonbill being the pick of the bunch. We’re in Peterborough now, pending an early morning flight tomorrow to Fuertaventura – with a big Western Palearctic ‘tick’ in our sights! I’ll let you know how that goes!

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Saturday 18th May

Wood Warbler - Simon

Wood Warbler – Felbrigg Park. In the last thirty years there have only been two previous records! Photo courtesy of Simon Chidwick.

I set off early into Felbrigg, in pursuit of the late Fieldfare, which had been reported yesterday, near the Hall. I walked the entire length of the grazing meadow, down to the Weaver’s Way – nothing. Down at the lake I met a visiting party of American birders looking for the Little Owl. I pointed out the Ash below the dam as its ‘tree of choice’ and carried on around the lake. The pair of Tufted x Ferruginous Duck were close to the dam wall. A Red Kite flew south pursued by an angry Oystercatcher and three singing Reed Warbler were between Boathouse Bay and the top sluice. By the time I’d got back round to the dam the Little Owl was sat out in the Ash tree performing to it’s admiring audience. I decided to walk back past the Hall on my way to a Cromer Peregrine Project meeting in town. A group of mountain bikers flushed three Mistle Thrush off the grass in front of the Hall (the Fieldfare had been reported with Mistle Thrush yesterday) and they flew into the Old Deer Park – never to re-emerge. Passing the track to the church I noticed a distant thrush on the grass – closer views revealed it to be a Fieldfare. Later flying up into a near-by Oak and joining five more. Previous late dates for the park have been 11th May 1980 & 12th May 2017. I had just got to the car-park near the Cromer Lodges entrance when I heard the distinct song of a Wood Warbler. I stopped dead in my tracks – this would be a ‘Felbrigg first’ for me, if I’d heard correctly! It sang briefly again and I just managed to get glimpses of a ‘leaf warbler’ in the dense canopy. I waited as long as I dare but eventually had to leave for my meeting. I texted the news to a few folk and got Jane to post it on the NENBC website. The bird was subsequently heard by Lee and seen & photographed by Simon. There was no sign when I returned this evening.

Late Fieldfare – between the Hall and the church


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Thursday 16th May


Sand Martin – much in evidence on both Felbrigg bird walks yesterday

Yesterday it was bird walks day in Felbrigg. There were a couple of dozen folk on the NENBC walk in the morning and ten on the National Trust walk in the afternoon. Overall it was very quiet bird-wise. I guess the highlight was a single Common Sandpiper, seen over the lake in the morning. Neither walk produced the hoped-for Spotted Flycatcher – it’s getting a bit late for these birds to show up now. On the plus side, Swift and House Martin have now joined the ‘resident’ Swallows in the village. Peter tells me that the Swifts are already prospecting his boxes! Sand Martins were much in evidence around the lake on the walks – their numbers steadily increasing through the day. Fifty or more by late afternoon. There were plenty of Common Blue Damselfly emerging too. A bit further afield, two Ringed Plover, on the beach below the turf slope on Cromer Golf Course, were a new ‘east cliffs tick’ for me.

This handsome male Stonechat is still in residence on Cromer Golf Course


Along with plenty of Whitethroat, which are bucking the apparent trend of generally reduced numbers of summer visitors in the area


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Monday 13th May


Willow Warbler singing from the under-cliff near Cromer lighthouse

Birding highlights from the long weekend, which was mainly a family occasion, included: a walk through Felbrigg – producing very little!, early morning walks along the Cromer east cliffs – producing slightly more, a return visit to Muckleborough Hill to give Jake a chance to add Great Spotted Cuckoo to his UK list and a reasonable day today at Cley NWT – where Spoonbill and Little Tern were top of the bill. But probably the best birds were a flock of nine Barnacle Geese which flew over Cromer and out to sea on Saturday afternoon (only my second NENBC record), two large accipiters – which may well have been Goshawk and a Willow Warbler singing from the under-cliff near Cromer lighthouse this morning.

Possible Goshawk, seen briefly from the A148 NENBC Raptor view-point – in preparation for this coming Sunday’s Skywatch event – see Club website for details


iPhone photo of two Little Tern on the main scrapes, Cley NWT today


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Thursday 9th May


One of five Common Sandpipers seen yesterday at Felbrigg Lake

After yesterday’s rain subsided I did manage a late afternoon walk around the lake. There were a few woodland birds singing near the back gate, but nothing of real interest. Nothing significant either on the grazing pastures above the water meadow or on the meadows themselves. It wasn’t until I reached the lake that things began to happen. Both Reed and Sedge Warbler were singing in the reed-bed and there was a swarm of Sand Martin – 50 or 60 –  feeding over the lake. In amongst them were a few Swallow and House Martin. Three Swift flew over, heading south. When I got to the dam I could just make out a pale bird sat in the dead tree on the far edge of Common Plantation. Thinking it looked interesting I began to make my way slowly across the rough grazing towards it. I was satisfied that it wasn’t the hoped-for Hobby and, when it flew off prematurely over the trees, I put it down as a possible Sparrowhawk. A real rookie error – because, when I got home and looked at the photos, it turned out to be a Cuckoo! My first in Felbrigg in 2019 – having missed the one on Sunday. In my defence, it was a long way away and it didn’t call! Yet again proving the point that even a bad photo is better than your memory! I’d returned to the dam when I saw a Common Sandpiper fly across the lake and alight on a tree root along the western edge. With careful looking I found four more. At the viewing screen I heard a drawn-out subdued melody coming from the dense Alder plantation – Garden Warbler – my first of the year. It was chased off by a Blackcap. At the back of The Forge a Whitethroat was collecting nesting material and a Grey Heron flew over – both species, along with Common Sand, we managed to miss on our Big Sit!

Record shot – blown up to the max – of a silent Cuckoo, Felbrigg



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Tuesday 7th May


A just reward – Great Spotted Cuckoo at Weybourne camp. iPhone photo

Sometimes ones loyalty to the Club and respect for tradition means you are called upon to make sacrifices. So it was in May 2015 when the arrival of a mega-rare Citril Finch, at Burnham Overy Dunes, coincided with the day of the NENBC Big Sit. Team Felbrigg did indeed sit tight, making the ultimate sacrifice, and, as a consequence, missing the bird – a once in a generation opportunity! This year it was deja vu all over again. Whilst Team Felbrigg were freezing our acorns off on the Big Sit, the text alerts kept rolling in from one Club member after another, reporting their successful sighting of the elusive Great Spotted Cuckoo at Weybourne Camp. Was I bitter …? Yesterday morning we woke as earlier as was feasible, after fourteen hours straight birding the day before, and headed down to Muckleborough Hill. The birder just leaving reported ‘no sign’ and our early optimism took another hit. On site the assembled company concurred – no sign! Then Paul, who was stood next to me, cried ‘there it is, flying left’. The tree between me and the bird did it’s job and I failed to connect – bad news was I’d missed it, good news was the bird was still present! After an anxious interlude the bird was relocated. Reasonable views were obtained and then subsequently much better views had – Great Spotted Cuckoo, a Norfolk ‘tick’, was firmly in the bag! Duty Day at Cley NWT produced an unexpected bonus – Hooded Crow as a Norfolk year tick and then, later, in the west of the County – acting on excellent intel from a friend – another corvid moment – a Raven at an un-disclosable location. Three Norfolk ticks in a week – mental!

An added bonus – Hooded Crow at Cley NWT


My third ‘Norfolk tick’ in a week – Raven, somewhere in West Norfolk


The ultimate sacrifice for Club & Country  – Citril Finch in 2015. Photo courtesy of Penny Clarke


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Monday 6th May


Members of Team Felbrigg – participating in yesterday’s NENBCD Annual Big Sit

Yesterday’s Annual NENBC Big Sit started for me at 04.00. After breakfast, packing the car, transporting the kit to site and parking, I was in position and ready to start by 05.20! Joined by Lee, who was, heroically, with me from start to finish, our list opened with a lovely Barn Owl hunting behind The Forge. A steady trickle of birds followed until Team Felbrigg was large enough to tackle assembling the event shelter. Just as well we did because ‘shelter’ was much needed, with temperatures remaining in single figures and a moderate north wind, producing a high of  ‘feels like’ 6 degrees! Birds continued to be added and our Team Felbrigg expanded and contracted as supporters came and went. The Big Sit always has ‘down time’ – often several hours between new species – but yesterday we kept going. Even in the last hour we added Little Owl, Grey Wagtail, Great Black-backed Gull and Mandarin Duck – the last species, added a minute before our official stop time, 14 hours after we started! Other highlights included Peregrine, Cuckoo, Greenshank, Fieldfare, Hobby and Red Kite. As always we didn’t manage to get everything on our list – we missed Common Sandpiper, which was seen at the far end of the water meadow, but not viewable from The Warren. A huge thank you to all active Team Felbrigg participants, Carol for essential sustenance when we were flagging, casual supporters and ad hoc visitors alike. We finished on a grand total of 77 (we’d missed Blackbird off the list guys!) – one short of our record and a highly creditable performance in the circumstances. Oh, and we had fun as well!

Little Egret – definitely not on our ‘expected’ list – flew straight through


An early inland Swift was another welcome bonus