Aylmerton Nature Diary

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Saturday 30th November


Pale ‘Barbary-type’ Collard Dove are on the increase in Aylmerton – photo from the internet

Another quiet week goes by – mind you it is late November and we haven’t had the benefit of any real cold weather yet this winter. Apart from the occasional Peregrine sighting on Cromer church, I have very little to report locally. We had a Felbeck Trust work-party at West Beckham on Friday – in between the relentless dock-digging there were the occasional birding moments. A flock of forty+ Linnet in the boundary oaks, a Yellowhammer in the thick hedge and several skeins of Pink-feet flying over were the highlights. Back in the village the number of Collard Dove seems to be on the increase, including at least one of the much paler ‘Barbary’ types – first remarked upon by Andy B when he lived here prior to 2010.

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Tuesday 26th November


Water Pipit – one of two present on the main scrapes, Cley NWT, yesterday – iPhone photo

Another decent day at Cley NWT yesterday. The Isabelline Wheatear is still there – I watched it late morning through the scope, at a range of 500m or more! There were several male Stonechat along Beach Road, a close Red-throated Diver from the car park with a Great Skua just off-shore, the flock of 50+ Snow Bunting were along the shingle ridge east of the pill-box, and two Peregrine were taking occasional sorties from their respective perches around the main scrapes. Water Pipit were in evidence on Whitwell & Simonds Scrapes – possibly two birds – during the afternoon. One eventually being super obliging, foraging on the small island right in front of Dauke’s hide.

Peregrine – an un-ringed adult female – I might be wrong but it didn’t strike me as our Cromer girlIMG_5101

A general shot of resting waders and wildfowl on Simmond’s Scrape, mid-afternoon


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Sunday 24th November


Todd’s Canada Goose at Weybourne this afternoon – iPhone record shot

It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegone – and indeed in Felbrigg Park too! Wednesday was the NENBC mid-week walk. We did well to clock up 39 species between us – but nothing particularly noteworthy. It was a similar story when I walked through the park on Thursday with Nick. The highlight of our morning excursion being three Marsh Tit on the feeders at Sustead Common. Friday & Saturday were tied up with a minor DIY project and this morning’s outing into the park again produced very little of note – just a few Teal on the water meadows and four Snipe in the rough grazing south of the dam. The big news is that one of the two large dead Ash trees, up stream from the water meadows, has finally keeled over. I’ve seen Little Owl, Cuckoo and Ring Ouzel in that tree over recent years. In fact the photo of the flock of Fieldfare in October featured that very tree. It will be sadly missed. What better way to round off a rather grey weekend but by going to look through thousands of ‘grey geese’ at Weybourne this afternoon. Amongst the many Pink-feet there was a single Todd’s Canada Goose – a fair bet for a genuinely wild bird – and a couple of Tundra Bean Geese.

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Wednesday 20th November


Inland Snow Bunting are rare in the NENBC area. Having missed the one recently in Felbrigg I was delighted to catch up with this Aldborough bird. Thanks to DN for the tip-off 

I got a message from David that there was an inland Snow Bunting at Aldborough. I arranged to meet him yesterday morning, early, to see if it was still there. I parked and we strolled slowly up the road towards the Wickmere crossroads. Half-way up the hill the bird appeared right by the verge. It moved unhurriedly up and down the field margin as various dog-walkers came by or vehicles passed. It eventually flew across the road into the ploughed field and was last seen from the footpath heading towards Aldborough. Whilst we were watching this winter jewel – rare in an inland location – I heard the distinctive call of Golden Plover. A flock of 27, joined by a single Lapwing, appeared in the western skies. A great start to the day.

A flock of Golden Plover caught in the early morning sun

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Tuesday 19th November


The long-staying Isabelline Wheatear at Cley yesterday – iPhone photo

Highlights from Cley NWT yesterday included: the now long-staying Isabelline Wheatear – not straying more than 50m in either direction from it’s favourite spot near the five-bar gate at the back of Arnold’s, up to four Water Pipit – possibly three on Arnold’s late morning and another in front of Dauke’s hide briefly in the afternoon, a female Merlin over Iron Road am, five Barnacle Geese in the Eye Field and several Stonechat around the reserve.

One of several Water Pipit on the reserve, giving frustrating brief glimpses


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Sunday 17th November


This morning was ‘duck hunt’ day (WeBS count) – photo from the internet!

On Friday Felbeck Trust trustees were involved in helping the National Trust develop their new Conservation Management Plan for Felbrigg. During the afternoon walk there were very few birds of note, except a distant Red Kite over Common Plantation. Yesterday was pretty much taken up with Sustead Common – work-party in the morning and finishing off odds & ends in the afternoon – with some birding moments in between. I missed the highlight of the day when John had two Curlew on the field adjacent to Spurrell’s Wood – a nice site tick. Other highlights included a Woodcock, which flew down the road between Spurrell’s and The Common, Marsh Tit on the feeders, a flock of 50+ Lapwing which flew over heading north west and a group of ten Fieldfare on the winter wheat field from the hide, late afternoon, with several Mistle Thrush. It was duck-count day today but although the numbers are slowly creeping up the variety is still very limited – only three species of duck. Better today than over the past week though because the Gadwall have reappeared. Other notable records included a pair of ‘stranger’ Mute Swan – banished by the resident pair to the water meadows, two squealing Water Rail and six Snipe. By far the most interesting record of the weekend though came yesterday morning. I was on my way to Sustead, passing the lay-by near the Council offices when a small harrier flew low across the road, heading for Stone Hill. Seen only in near-silhouette – compact, looking long-tailed, agile flight with deep wing-beats and occasional glides. If this were the summer I’d have had no hesitation in reporting it as a Montagu’s but, given the time of year, the probability leans towards Pallid. I phoned it round to a few local birders but they all went to voice mail!

View of the hide in Spurrell’s Wood, with the new feeding station in the foreground



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Wednesday 13th November


Otter on Felbrigg Lake yesterday morning

I suspected something was up when I got to the water meadows in Felbrigg yesterday morning. The Teal (14) appeared particularly restless and the Mallard (20+) filled the area of open water. When I reached the lake the Mute Swans were in the far west corner and a number of Moorhen and a single Coot (first report since August) were roosting in the trees on the island. There was no sign of any other wildfowl. I was particularly curious because I’d seen no Gadwall at all on my last couple of visits. Then it happened, between where I was standing – the edge of the lake in front of The Warren – and the island, a dark shape appeared above the waterline, creating a long wake behind it. It was a large Otter – only the third I’ve seen on the lake. There was very little else of note: Green Woodpecker, again in the dead Oak in the SE corner, and a Marsh Tit near the viewing screen. In other news several Cromer Peregrine Project volunteers braved the rain and icy winds on top of the tower to clean out the box, ready for what we all hope will be another successful breeding season.

Tim & Eddie, pleased with their work – time for a hot coffee in the church cafe

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Tuesday 12th November


iPhone record shot of Isabelline Wheatear at Cley NWT, taken in pouring rain – still showing most of the important id features of slightly thicker bill, black alula, paler upper parts, long legs and distinctive (hidden) tail pattern

The undisputed birding highlight of Cley NWT yesterday was the Isabelline Wheatear, which was first found and identified on Sunday. It was wet overnight and still pouring with rain as we made our way down East Bank to the shingle ridge, the birds chosen feeding area. It didn’t take us long to re-locate it – somewhat bedraggled – as it fed in the long grass behind Arnold’s Marsh. By the afternoon the weather had improved and so had the steady stream of admirers. This was a ‘first for Cley’ and only my second in Norfolk. There were a few tame Snow Bunting and a male Stonechat along the ridge to help keep the visitors happy and Grey Phalarope put in a brief appearance on Arnold’s – apparently flying right in front of us, as it made it’s way back out to sea!

There were a few Snow Bunting keeping the wheatear company


A slightly better shot of the Isabelline Wheatear, taken in the afternoon 


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Sunday 10th December


NWT staff and volunteers enjoying a brisk walk on Holkham beach

On Friday I spent most of the day at the NWT volunteers event, hosted by Holkham Hall. The afternoon consisted of a talk by Jake & Andy, from the Holkham estates wildlife ranger team, about the various conservation initiatives they’re involved in, followed by a walk around the Gap, beach, woods and grazing marsh. I hadn’t appreciated the sizeable increase in the successful breeding Spoonbill colony there – 26 pairs in 2019! Yesterday morning I did my Q4 IoRA (Index of Relative Abundance)  survey of Felbrigg Park – highlights included a nice male Stonechat on the water meadows, Little Owl in the dead Oak below the dam and Water Rail. I recorded over forty species in a couple of hours. This morning I did a short sea-watch at Cromer east cliffs. Very little happening, just a few Red-throated Diver heading east and a Shag off-shore, around the pier. As I walked back, the two adult Peregrines were on the church tower – we’re cleaning out their nest-box this week!

Apologies for the recent slip-ups over days / dates – think I’ve sorted it out now!

Mum (above) & Dad (below) Peregrine on Cromer church tower this morning


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Friday 8th November


Surprisingly, my first sighting of our ‘resident’ Cromer Peregrines hunting far out to sea

Another busy week goes by, but I have managed to fit in a couple of sea-watches from North Lodge Park – in what was supposed to be more favourable sea-watching conditions. Highlights of the various sessions have included: three skua species – Arctic (briefly landing on the beach and scaring all the roosting gulls away), Great & Pomarine; nearly a thousand Gannets streaming east on Tuesday; my first Goldeneye from the site and, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, my first sighting of Peregrine (presumed to be our ‘resident’ birds) hunting out over the sea. Recent kill remains from around the tower have included Dunlin and Woodcock, with plenty of Starlings and pigeons too! The adult male is sitting up on the south east pinnacle of the tower as I write this post. Fortunately the rain held off for our Felbeck Trust work at West Beckham on Tuesday and Sadler’s Wood on Wednesday.