Aylmerton Nature Diary

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Friday 14th February


Black-necked Swan – national emblem of Chile. Also now on my Uruguay list!

We’ve been out of the UK for seven weeks now but our latest round the world trip, visiting family in Australia & Chile – doing some birding along the way, comes to an end next week. For anyone who is interested I’ve just published a blog post covering our ten day mini break in Uruguay – you can read the post here. I hope to be back reporting more regular wildlife sightings from around Aylmerton and Cromer before too long.

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Friday 27th December


Rough-legged Buzzard, Felbrigg, November 2018 – one of the highlights of this review period

Each year since I started this blog I’ve published a short annual review. Until now this has been at or around the anniversary – in September. But dividing the best part of the birding year across two review periods doesn’t make much sense so, starting today (in a slightly extended edition), the AND annual review will coincide with the calendar year.


The long-staying King Eider off Sheringham – one of a run of local late autumn rarities

The closing months of 2018 had plenty of interest both around the parish and slightly further afield. October produced Mediterranean Gull on the patch (and again in 2019), Jack Snipe, Ring Ouzel and Yellow-browed Warbler, whilst November will be remembered for that fly-over Rough-legged Buzzard – a Felbrigg ‘tick’. Further afield the rarities included Stejneger’s Stonechat between Kelling & Salthouse – a ‘first’ for Norfolk, followed by Brown Shrike at Weybourne – another ‘first’ for Norfolk, the long-staying King Eider off of Sheringham and a Pallid Swift, also at Sheringham. The year closed with a sighting of a pair of Peregrine around Cromer church tower – who would have guessed what that would lead to in 2019! Meanwhile back in the park, a pair of wintering Stonechat were seen through to February, with possibly the same pair returning this autumn. Barn Owl continued their downward trend – proving a very elusive species during 2019, but Tawny and Little Owl remain evident in the park throughout.


Tawny & Little Owl populations in Felbrigg remain stable, whilst Barn Owl continue to decline

February also produced one of the local highlights of the winter with a reasonably obliging Little Bunting on Weybourne Camp. Firecrest, Pintail and, the increasingly scarce, Coot saw winter turn to spring in the park. An early seasonal speciality – Alpine Swift at Sheringham in April, heralded a run of good birds locally. Several singing Wood Warbler were found in May – culminating in a ‘self-found’ in Felbrigg – a new bird for me in the park. These increasingly scarce Norfolk birds were an entertaining ‘warm-up act’ for a couple of outstanding local spring rarities – Bluethroat at Spalla Gap and a long-staying Great Spotted Cuckoo at Weybourne Camp.


Wood Warbler arrived in numbers along the Norfolk coast in May 2019

The NENBC Big Sit in early May, whilst not producing anything outstanding in Felbrigg, did amass the second highest total of 77 species since the event started. Cuckoo and Mandarin Duck proved equally elusive as spring slid in to summer. As is usually the case in Felbrigg, mid-summer highlights were mostly of the insect variety, with three species of Emerald, Lesser Emperor and mating Red-veined Darter being the ‘dragon’ highlights.


Red-veined Darter – one of several at Felbrigg – providing a welcome summer distraction

Autumn migration got off to a reasonable start with several large groups of Green and Common Sandpiper through the park and a long-staying Greenshank. Meanwhile, sea-watching off Cromer in early August produced the stand-out bird of the year – Sooty Tern (record pending). Even by recent standards the 2019 autumn passerine migration through the park was dismal. I had to work hard to find birds like Whinchat, Willow Warbler or Ring Ouzel, but October did produce a nice male Goosander on the lake (the first for a couple of years), several Black Redstart in the village and another, long-anticipated, Felbrigg ‘first’ for me – a Merlin. A pair of Stonechat brought the first winter period to a close in an otherwise unremarkable period for the park.


A male Goosander – the first in two years – Felbrigg, autumn 2019

Even in a year where generally good birds were hard to come by locally, there were several noticeable species thin on the ground or non-existent. The already remarked upon decline in Barn Owl and Mandarin was, in 2019, compounded by just a single brood of elusive Spotted Flycatcher, an absence of breeding Hobby, no evidence of Cuckoo breeding locally, Kingfisher, Little Egret and Coot sightings down and no Redpoll, Crossbill or Hawfinch in the park up until the year end. But perhaps the biggest surprise was that in a year which saw record numbers of autumn Wood Sandpiper along the Norfolk coast, e.g. 100+ at Cley, not a single bird was found in Felbrigg – the last record in Felbrigg being in 2015!

What, I wonder, will be the highlights in and around Felbrigg, Aylmerton and Cromer in 2020? Keep reading this blog to find out!

Wood Sandpiper where evident in large numbers along the coast – but not in Felbrigg!


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Christmas Eve


Record shot of this mornings Eastern Yellow Wagtail at Sedgeford – Jane’s 400th UK tick!

Generally 2019 has been a pretty poor birding year for me – not so many interesting species around in Norfolk and, perhaps more pertinently, far less time to go for them anyway. Yesterday at Cley the birding was un-spectacular but at one point during the morning John radioed in ‘five Sanderling – on the beach east of Iron Road’. To my embarrassment I still need Sanderling for my Norfolk year list. I hot-footed it along the shore but by the time I was within ‘scoping distance the birds had been flushed further east and out of view! This would have been my 200th for the year – as it was it looked like I’d be stuck on 199 – a very poor tally by recent standards. This all potentially changed though with a report of Eastern Yellow Wagtail at Sedgeford in the afternoon. As we were supposed to be packing for our up-coming trip, going then wasn’t an option – I had to hope it would re-appear today. Which fortunately it did. We made a minor detour on the way to the kids for Christmas and, between the rain showers, we got reasonable views of the bird feeding on the muck heap. A first for Norfolk, a UK Lifer for me, and my 200th Norfolk year tick, BUT of far greater birding significance – Jane’s 400th UK tick! What a Christmas present.

Speaking of Christmas, I’d like to wish my regular blog readers a very Happy Christmas & New Year. We’re off on our travels again in a few days time so, apart from an occasional travel-blog, this site will be off air until late February. See you in the Spring!

Another record shot of this excellent year-end Norfolk birding super-star


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Friday 20th December


Are Grey Wagtail becoming more common in Norfolk?

It’s never too late! I was up at the allotments yesterday morning doing another ‘final clear-up’ when the unmistakable profile and call of a Grey Wagtail flew over head. An hour or so later it flew back again, from the direction of Felbrigg. When I got home I discovered that it was a rather surprising ‘Allotment’ tick. Is it my imagination or are Grey Wags getting commoner in Norfolk? There’s been one hanging around Cromer town centre for a couple of weeks now.

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Thursday 19th December.


The pair of wintering Stonechat – Felbrigg Park. Almost seen on the NENBC mid-week walk!

The NENBC mid-week walk in Felbrigg yesterday was the 50th occasion I have had the privilege to lead the event for the Club. Around 20 turned up for the walk and we saw just over forty species – helping at least one enthusiastic member over the ”100 species recorded in the NENBC area’ line and earning a Bronze badge into the bargain. Highlight, but alas only seen after the walk had concluded, was a pair of elusive Stonechat on the water meadows. In other news, Monday ‘s ‘duty day’ at Cley NWT was good, with a number of notable long-staying species – Water Pipit, Stonechat, Peregrine, Kingfisher, Snow Bunting and Water Rail. Birds of the day were a nice adult Yellow-legged Gull and a White-fronted Goose, both on or near Simmond’s Scrape, late afternoon. Today will mostly be spent in preparation for tonight’s Bird Club AGM & Christmas Social – Aylmerton Village Hall – doors open at 7.00.

Highlights of Monday’s ‘duty day’ at Cley – Yellow-legged Gull (iPhone photo)


..and White-fronted Goose, in with the hundred+ Pink-feet (iPhone photo)


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Sunday 15th December


Welcome additions to the wildfowl on Felbrigg Lake today for the WeBS count

It was ‘duck count’ at Felbrigg this morning – the furthest I’ve taken my toe since the ‘unfortunate incident’. It was a lovely morning and although the overall numbers are still down, relative to this time in previous years, the variety has crept up in recent weeks. There were five duck species present this morning – Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Tufted and Wigeon. No Cormorant, Snipe or Water Rail though. Away from Felbrigg, a Peregrine – probably our Cromer male – over the A148 near Pine Wood caravan site, was the only recent birding highlight.