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June 7th

I saw what was almost certainly the same male Marsh Harrier again today, this time closer to home as he searched a wheat field by our lane. I'm guessing that he is a bird with a mate somewhere in the north Broads area, although with the species' utilisation of arable crops in recent years he may have a female much closer by. Somewhat unexpected as I walked Ossie out was the rather feeble song of a Reed Bunting coming from a solitary Willow just north of College Farm. I usually see them here as a winter visitor or passage migrant, and a male sang not far from here for a few days much earlier in the Spring, but I'd had neither sight nor sound of him for weeks so maybe like the recent Reed Warbler, this was a late migrant.

This evening was warm and fine and as I put some rubbish out I became aware that the local Swallows and House Martins had assembled high over the houses, many giving agitated alarm calls. Within seconds the slim form of a Hobby appeared overhead but it seemed disinterested and continued northwards, the Sand Martin colony along the cliffs probably it's intended destination.


June 6th

Up for an early start, Ossie and I took a two hour walk from home, along Upton Way where we took a left towards the lighthouse. Shortly after making this move, a large raptor appeared low over the fields; a hunting male Marsh Harrier which soon turned and sailed off over the village. Lighthouse Lane followed from here and we headed down Beach Road to the car park to make use of the 'dog bin' facilities - something that I wish a great many more dog walkers would do. Along the cliffs next as far as the Coast Watch and a piping call from the direction of the sea revealed an Oystercatcher flying low over the waves, a Happisburgh year tick for me. Exchanging a nod with the Officer at the Watch, we turned to follow the track back towards 'The Forge', attention brought to a pair of Yellow Wagtails by the male's anxious calling, due I think to the passing over of another male. Instead of following the road through the village I decided to take in Grubb Street, the memory of a splendid Rose-coloured Starling along there in June 2001 spurring me on. But it wasn't to be and by the time we arrived back home the day had really begun to warm up. Poor Ossie, although really pleased with his trip out, fell fast asleep in his bed for the rest of the morning.


June 1st

As if to remind us all that today was the 1st day of June, a Cuckoo singing along our lane had followed the rhyme and changed his tune already.


May 31st

Two Cuckoos were heard calling to the north of our garden this evening.


May 29th

It was a cooler morning than of late and a pink flushed dawn soon turned into a grey day during which the fields and gardens were treated to a much needed gentle rain. Ossie and I walked the lane early on, hearing a distant Cuckoo calling from across the fields. About half way to the paddocks, where the hedgerow becomes quite mature and more interesting, a snatch of song stopped me in my tracks. It sounded like a Reed Warbler, but any late Spring 'Reed' singing from a coastal hedgerow is always worth double checking for the rare Marsh Warbler. It remained silent for a while and I played an mp3 recording of a Marsh Warbler from my mobile phone hoping to elicit a response. None was forthcoming though. A few more minutes passed and the singing started again, this time for a bit longer, still sounding like the commoner species and without any of the extravagent mimicry usually associated with Marsh Warblers. The habitat was 'wrong', but this bird was undoubtedly a pausing migrant heading for a reed-bed somewhere, for it eventually showed and I could see it was a typical Reed Warbler, a tricky species to record within the parish so I was more than pleased to add it to the year's tally.

On the return leg a flyover Heron was just a Grey (as they always are!) and later, from the garden, an increasingly loud 'cuckoo... cuckoo...' was given by one of two birds that eventually appeared as they flew overhead towards the northwest.


May 26th

Looking westwards from the lane by Laurel Lodge a streak of almost electric blue took a second to register as a Kingfisher, which then disappeared into the grounds of Thatched Dyke where a nearby breeding pair fished occasionally last year. This was my first Happisburgh sighting of one this year so hopefully they are nesting locally again.


May 25th

The Garden Warbler that has taken up residence at Laurel Lodge continued to proclaim his territory today, showing reasonably well at times. Hopefully a female will be impressed enough by his beautiful song to want to stay and raise a family.


May 24th

As I drove the morning school run yesterdays Spotted Flycatcher was still present, perched on a telegraph wire over the road.


May 23rd

Either side of where we live are two 'Moat Farms'; one in Happisburgh, the other just into Lessingham. The former is a proper working farm, being surrounded by small fields full of market garden produce and several meadows of swaying grass, soon be mown into swaths then baled and poly-wrapped in which it will ferment into a rich, sweet scented cattle fodder. The other Moat Farm is now a sympathetically converted group of farm buildings and as their names suggest, small areas of water can be found at each. I pass both when I choose to walk the regular circuit with Ossie and this morning we headed round anti-clockwise, passing through Lessingham first. The grounds around Moat Farm, Lessingham are home to some tall, mature Oaks where commoner birds often gather and this morning a Spotted Flycatcher sailed into the treetops, their summer arrival well under way.


May 22nd

Almost a week after the first Spotted Flycather, this morning revealed two more at the same location. One bird was softly sub-singing, although the full blown performance can't really be described as ear-splitting by any means; it's no surprise that such an unassuming bird has an understated, yet quietly pleasant song. Returning home I was greeted by neighbour with the sad sight of a freshly dead young Blackbird in his hand. I was expecting a bit of an anti-cat rant as our Polly does occasionally take birds. This particular Blackbird was one of a brood that had become really quite tame, providing a source of entertainment with their fearless, nonchalant antics which even resorted to stealing morsels of food from Ossie's bowl. But this time Polly wasn't to blame, for this particular birds demise was caused by, of all things, a falling linen prop. A quite extraordinary, unbelievably tragic end to a short life.


May 16th

The middle of May is when we can usually expect to see the first Spotted Flycatchers returning to Norfolk from their African wintering grounds and this morning one had appeared in a sheltered, sunny hedgerow behind Laurel Lodge at the top of our lane. It wasn't at all active and just sat looking content on its warm, sunny perch, perhaps digesting a belly full of juicy St. Mark's flies. These bumbling, black insects have been quite abundant this Spring although they must surely be coming to the end of the short adult phase of their life cycle. No longer such a common breeding bird here I paused to watch the Flycatcher with background music provided by a nearby male Garden Warbler.


May 15th

I can't ever remember going through April before without hearing the call of the Cuckoo but this year I did just that, in fact I heard my first just this morning from across the fields opposite our home. With the wind backed off to the north-west many birds that may have taken advantage of yesterday's south-westerlies to assist them on their northbound migration will have stopped off, as was no doubt the case with a male and female Wheatear I watched along the fence by Lower Farm's meadows. They were actively feeding in order to replace energy expended on the journey thus far.


May 14th

At last the wind has shifted to the south-west, hopefully bringing an end to the chilly northerly-biased winds we seem to have been stuck with for an eternity. I headed with Ossie to the cliffs and we walked from the Decca site along the cliff path to the village and back, via Lighthouse Lane and Upton Way. A splendid male Yellow Wagtail was within the fenced off site boundary and two more were noted along our route. Having just turned towards the cliffs at the crossroads along Upton Way I noticed a small passerine with a distinct, stocky, Sparrow-like 'feel' flying in from the south-east. It gave a typical House Sparrow's 'chirrup' as it passed and then dropped into an extensive patch of Alexanders. I back-tracked to try and see it again and sure enough, out popped a male House Sparrow. It was a little unusual to see one here and my feeling is that it was probably a locally nesting bird on a feeding foray. Walking a little further I was somewhat saddened to see that groundwork was taking place in one of the holiday bungalows by the Decca site, the large tangle of brambles that on Monday had held at least a male Common Whitethroat (was there a mate on eggs?) had been levelled in the name of progress. It's a shame that a little more foresight isn't applied to such developments and that any scrub clearance is undertaken before birds have invested huge amounts of time and energy into establishing a territory, finding a mate, building a nest and laying eggs. The Whitethroats breeding season may not yet have reached this stage but, unfortunately, this scenario must be duplicated many hundredfold across the country each year.

Early this afternoon, as I drove homeward along the A149 at Smallburgh, I had a brief encounter with my second Hobby of the year as it zipped across the road on sharply raked wings. Our most agile Falcon, the Hobby favours Dragonflies above any other food source and the Ant valley will hopefully be able to provide plenty for the species this Summer.


May 13th

Having mistakenly thought that a single Swift around the houses on April 23rd marked the return of 'our' birds I was pleased this evening to see five chasing noisily around the houses. It seemed as if four were all in pursuit of the bird at the front of the pack, which showed a subtly different manner of flight, and I wondered if this was a female teasing for the attentions of one of four males.


May 10th

Following the school run I made a stop just west of the village to check the large beet field as it really does look prime for the attentions of a Dotterel or two. By this time the sun was beating down through a cloudless sky and a strong heat haze was shimmering across the ground. I soon latched onto a medium sized, long-legged bird as it ran a short distance across the dry soil right at the back of the field and my hopes soared. It was rather pale looking but I could make out a whitish brow above the eyes and it had a dark patch on it's lower belly in the region of it's legs. "Yes!" I thought to myself, but I needed better views to make a conclusive identification. I was a little concerned about the pale upperpart colouration, but knew that a dull male Dotterel could look quite pale, but as it continued to trundle up and down niggling doubts began to set in. It really should show a darker crown I thought and at one point, as the heat haze relented slightly, I could make out a small patch of dark feathering higher up the central breast. My choice of species was now changing and, as if to prove me correct, the bird flew a short distance to reveal black axillary feathering on the underwings; it was a Grey Plover, still mostly in winter plumage. I was left a tiny bit disappointed but as it was a new 2010 Happisburgh species for me all wasn't lost.

Bob and Keith happened to pull up just after this and we spent a few minutes catching up before heading for Cart Gap. We walked Doggetts Lane and reminisced of birding days gone by, it was good. One or two of Wheatears were noted here and a male and female Yellow Wagtail were briefly on the ground at the Decca site before flying further west. Other than a few Carrion Crows south and a few Linnets north it looked as if the bulk of any migration had ceased for the day. I walked Ossie out when I got home and saw nothing noteworthy other than a party of 21 Linnets feeding in the meadows behind Lower Farm.


May 9th

Nothing new seemed to be around this morning except for when I arrived home and a male Lesser Whitethroat was in full song around the gardens.


May 8th

A bright male Yellow Wagtail was on the horse paddocks again this morning and I surmised that it was perhaps a different individual to the one I saw here six days ago despite looking identical in appearance. A brief stop at Rollesby Way to scan the clifftop fields produced a pair of Grey Partridge doing their best to evade me in the lush green corn. What are probably the same birds are portrayed below.

Grey Partridge, Cart Gap - 19.04.2010 - Bob Cobbold


May 6th

Quite a while after dark last night I went outside to check on the sheds and make sure all was well before turning in for the night. Whilst out I heard the unmistakable calling of a small party of 'seven whistlers', much more commonly known to present day birders as Whimbrel. I have no idea how many birds were present but they fell silent. After a couple of minutes or so the calling continued and it was apparent that they were flying north, probably not to make landfall for several more hours.

I did my bit mid-morning and went to the Wenn Evans Centre to put a cross in a box, as opposed to a tick which, until near the year end, I do on a much more regular basis. On my return a Falcon was soaring quite low over the garden and when it moved away from the sun I could see it was a Hobby, my first this year. It moved off to the south and out of sight, but whilst passing not one House Martin gave an alarm call, as they often do. They must have been happy that on this occasion the Hobby wasn't up for hunting.


May 2nd

A blustery north-easterly had picked up overnight and coupled with the low cloud, the temperature had dipped again. I needed my scarf and fleece this morning to fend off the Bank Holiday weekend weather. Scanning the field south of Cart Gap I soon got onto a lone, distant Plover but the obvious white stripes down the sides of it's breast immediately ruled out the species I was hoping for. Still, summer adult Golden Plovers are a smart bird and there won't be many more in Happisburgh until the autumn. I headed north to check the large open field west of the village which proved to be devoid of anything, but I did have a surprise sighting whilst driving along Blacksmiths Lane. And it came in the guise of a colourful male Golden Pheasant. As I wouldn't expect to see one of this introduced species occurring 'naturally' in Happisburgh, I can only assume it was an escapee from a nearby garden. It showed an obvious dark throat so was possibly of the form 'obscurus', some more info and photos of which can be found on the Go Birding website.

Things had quietened down at the paddocks, although a Lesser Whitethroat was singing from the shelter of a Blackthorn hedge, and even the myriad of Dandelions that were in full yellow bloom yesterday had closed their flowers to the cold, grey sky. On the paddock itself a male Yellow Wagtail was flirting with the horses hooves
along with four Pieds, all feeding on the flushed insects.


May 1st

I've been able to have a quick look at several sites around the village early in the mornings this past week and today I stopped just west of the village and scanned the large sugar beet field just south of the road. A hundred or so mixed Gulls were all apparently immatures, any adults, sensing the urgency to breed, having moved on from this particular wintering area. They were distant from the road but seemed jumpy and I was a little surprised that they all took flight as a Sparrowhawk coursed low over the field. A Chinese Water Deer was also nearby and I considered the likelihood of this being the culprit but couldn't make up my mind; perhaps the Gulls' immaturity, and the lack of any experienced adults around, meant that they would spook easily and at anything. During the time I was there, the deer slowly picked its way across the open field and gingerly crossed the road, it's coat looking somewhat scruffy as the more insulating winter hair was slowly being shed. Having turned up just after me, Keith managed to take some good video footage, helped by the fact that these cute aliens appear to have lost much of their fear of man, this one giving us just the occasional cursory glance as it approached. As I was leaving, a male Reed Bunting appeared on a sapling, perhaps a migrant bird after some R & R.

At Cart Gap, five Wheatears remained on the large beet field where last night there had been ten; had half the flock gone or were these new birds? A male Yellow Wagtail was also there, the first I have seen this year. Later, as I walked Ossie just into Lessingham, there were another three in a newly planted potato field, one of which was a drabber female. At the paddocks there was less Warbler activity than yesterday but I was lucky enough to pick up a Peregrine flying south. It wasn't particulary high up, the streaked breast indicating it was an immature bird and from it's small size probably a male. It showed no interest in the few Woodpigeons around, nor they it, and passed straight through in a direct line, obviously intent on getting somewhere.


April 30th

The passage of the cold front had definitely put a cooler edge to the air this morning but the sun is beginning to feel really quite warm in any shelter away from the breeze. At the paddocks it was as if all the Warblers there had sought such shelter, for a single Sycamore along the lee side held no less than four Garden Warblers (one a singing male), a pair of Blackcaps and single Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat and Willow Warbler. Two colourful Goldfinches joined in too, the insect life attracted to the sticky, bursting buds a valuable source of protein to supplement their usual diet of seeds. There has been a pair of these in the garden recently, taking advantage of a feeder filled with Niger seed, a Goldfinch favourite. I was surprised one evening after dark when, as I watered our tubs and baskets, the Goldfinches flew out of the tree from right beside the feeder where I presume they must have gone to roost. The grass in the meadows east of the paddocks has had a nitrogen boost, and with the effects of sunlight and recent showers is really marching on. So much so that a Fieldfare which was feeding there was practically hidden apart from it's head.

This evening I managed to nip out and check a couple of large sugar beet fields around the village, mainly because late April to mid May is pretty much the peak time for Dotterel to pass through the county. I've seen several in the parish over the years but drew a blank tonight and had to make do with a party of ten Wheatears instead.


April 29th

Monday's Ring Ouzel must have broken my 2010 Ouzel jinx, for this morning, while scanning from the garden, I picked up two 'rangy' looking Thrushes flying towards me and immediately knew they were Ouzels. They turned and landed in a treetop close to the paddocks and were still in that area when I walked Ossie through there an hour later, one in particular showing exceptionally pale edgings to it's wing feathers giving it a very distinctive appearance.

Earlier, I'd driven into the village from the west side seeing two separate male Wheatears along the way whilst at Walcott Green, an adult female Marsh Harrier was hunting a field edge.


April 28th

A phone call from a very excited brother just before 8:00am brought news of a Hoopoe in North Walsham. He was driving to work, just yards from his home, when fortune favoured him and the exotic visitor flopped across the road only feet in front of his van before disappearing amongst the leafy properties of that part of town. I couldn't get over to look myself but I let a couple of town birders know about it, although as far as I know there was no further sign of it. Another was found at Sheringham early this afternoon, this one staying and showing for birders, although there is a slim chance that it is the same as the North Walsham bird. However, the current weather conditions are prime for encouraging birds such as Hoopoe, as well as Woodchat Shrike and Tawny Pipit, both of which have appeared in east Norfolk today, to arrive. With an extensive high pressure system stretching from North Africa and the western Mediterranean through the Iberian peninsula and across Europe northwards into southern Fennoscandia, we should be looking out for more southern overshooting vagrants in the coming days. It will be interesting to see what drops in with the forecasted passage of a cold front later on Thursday. With this in mind I was in the kitchen this evening in 'Raven pose' (hands in the sink, eyes constantly checking out of the window!) when a Heron appeared on a south-east to north-west heading and quite high. Optimistically running outside, I was slightly disappointed to see it was just a Grey, but any flyover Heron should be scrutinised in these conditions.

The paddocks this morning held two Redwings and a Garden Warbler was singing in the grounds of Laurel Lodge, perhaps the same bird I saw earlier in the week. Whitethroat numbers along the lane had apparently increased again and at one point no less than four males were arguing over territory in one bramble. A Swift later appeared three times over the garden, although there is the possibility that all sightings related to different passing individuals.

I enjoyed a chat on the phone with Keith this afternoon, a bit of an overdue catch up. He'd been birding in Happisburgh during the day and had seen three grounded Yellow Wagtails, two of which were of the Blue-headed nominate race flava. Three Wheatears were around for him too and he also saw a Marsh Harrier passing high to the north-west.


April 27th

Another walk closer to the cliffs today took me down the road to Cart Gap, north along Doggetts Lane to the Decca site and then along Upton Way and back home. Windows down listening for birdsong, the distinctive rattling 'che-che-che-che-che' of my first Lesser Whitethroat for the year came from some dense cover near College Farm, the bird too distant for me to hear the quieter scratchy warble at the start of the song. Another was in the garden by Smallsticks Café, this one also singing and giving good views. Lesser Whitethroats, although not brightly coloured by any stretch of the imagination, are my favourite Warbler; I love their almost monochrome sleekness. A third was seen later, so there had obviously been an arrival late yesterday or overnight. I also noted a flock of 16 or so medium sized waders flying down the coast and offshore, but they were too distant to specifically identify. Ironically, when I was walking along the cliff edge I saw nothing much at all, a few Sandwich Terns were on the sea defences again, but when I reached my car, about one third of a mile inland, a scan towards the cliffs revealed the wader flock heading back north offshore and again too distant to see what they were. The Wheatears and Whinchat from yesterday had all moved on and it wasn't until 2:50pm, when a female Marsh Harrier started to soar upwards in front of our house, that I saw anything else noteworthy.


April 26th

As it turned out, the first part of the morning was quite productive for me on the bird front. First off, a smart Fieldfare was in a field on the East Ruston side of the parish boundary, a bit of a straggler as the majority of Fieldfares will have left the UK now. I then drove south through Whimpwell Green, noting a 'blackbird' close to the edge of a barley field which appeared innocuous enough. However, my subconscious made me check the rear view mirror and brake, telling me that the birds wings looked rather too pale for a Blackbird. Reversing up, I found myself watching a female Ring Ouzel tugging an earthworm out of the ground which she quickly swallowed before flying up into a row of tall Leylandii. It was a brief view, but the pale edged wing feathers and dingy white breast band quickly confirmed the identity of this mountain and moorland breeding, summer visiting thrush. Numbers of Ring Ouzels breeding in the UK have been in decline, so her destination may have been further afield, in Scandinavia for example. A regular passage visitor to Norfolk, the species usually appears in reasonable numbers mostly along the coast and it seems that this year has not been an exception with several small groups and individuals reported.

At just after 8:00am I bundled Ossie into the car and we took the short drive up towards Rollesby Way, just south of the lighthouse. I like to bring him here as, more often than not, he can come off the lead straight away and have a good run along the wide, grassy track. Halfway along the track we bumped into Lucy the Labrador who was also out for her daily exercise and after ten minutes of chasing about I had a tired and rather muddy dog at my side. A Wheatear flew up and past us and whilst scanning a field boundary lush with fresh Alexanders a small bird, perched atop a stem, puzzled me briefly. I didn't have to wait too long to get a better view though, for it turned its head to reveal the blazing white stripe above the eye, dark face and peachy breast of a male Whinchat. I didn't have my 'scope to hand so had to make do with quite distant binocular views of this handsome bird as it fed by dropping down to the bare soil of a sugar beet field. A little further on, a flock of 14 Woodpigeons plus two Stock Doves flew purposefully north, a reminder that even birds we may think of as being resident are often concealing birds that have joined us for the Winter, and at some point get the urge to migrate back. Carrying on we passed through the Decca site, at which point I heard the unmistakable grating call of a Sandwich Tern. From the cliff edge I could see six of them perched on the sea defences, an equal number of the smaller Common Tern also present, both being firsts for the year here for me. Tracking back across the field and along Upton Way we turned towards the car and I stopped to scan the sugar beet field again. The dry earth was obviously to the liking of Wheatears, for nine were feeding here. Some of the males were large, bright 'Greenland' types, their breeding grounds still a long flight away across the North Atlantic. Almost back at the car I felt it worth checking another beet field and sure enough, there were more Wheatears. This time, seven were present, making a minimum count of 16 in quite a small area. I went home to clean Ossie up, happy in the knowledge that Spring was really finally here...


April 25th

Expecting a warm and sunny day I was surprised to see completely cloudy skies when I awoke this morning. I kicked myself for not getting up earlier, but following two weeks of 4am get ups, I was glad of the lie in! Following a few spots of light rain the sun broke through and it brightened for a while, although remaining somewhat hazy. With Ossie leading the way, we headed along the lane and it soon became apparent that there had been a small arrival of migrants, for the hedgerows and cover around the paddocks held more warblers than recently. The recent Willow Warbler was still singing and along the route I heard another and saw one more. Four Blackcaps were seen too and at least six Common Whitethroats, but the star was a Garden Warbler in a Willow near Briar Cottage. I was especially pleased to see this as I'd missed them in Spring last year, although this bird remained silent and soon flew into the more extensive cover behind Laurel Lodge. Another bonus came in the form of a female Redstart which proved rather elusive as it fed along a fenced hedgerow bordering the main paddock. I often find them tricky to catch up with in the Spring but this was the second in this area this year. A pair of Mistle Thrushes were away from their nest and feeding on the smaller paddock, loosely accompanied by a single Redwing which had no doubt stopped off on it's way north.

It seems that shortly after this I missed out on a Red Kite which had been seen over Mill Farm. Distracted by a phone call, I didn't stop to scan towards the coast where I normally do, and had this been the case then I would probably have seen it. Still, Red Kites are doing really well throughout much of the UK now and surely one will cross my path before the year end.


April 24th

There was no sign of yesterdays Swift when I returned from work around midday but it had been replaced by the first two House Martins of the year, one of which was checking out what repairs would be needed to last years old nests.


April 23rd

An evening wander along the lane this evening took me as far as the paddocks in the hope of an Ouzel but the closest I could manage were a pair of Blackbirds. The Willow Warbler was still present and seemed to have found his voice at last, although I suspect he'll move along at some point as the habitat isn't quite right for the species. Two male Blackcaps were also engaged in a sing off, an invisible territorial divide somewhere between them. The air was chilly by now and as Os and I approached home, a dark scything shape cut across in front of us which then became a stuttering flutter of ungainly overlong wings as it investigated the eaves of a neighbours house. It was a Swift, the first for me this year and perhaps one of the screaming horde of 17 or so we had here last summer, a feature that will hopefully be replayed in the coming weeks.


April 21st

I detoured via East Ruston again today, there wasn't enough time to hit the coast before the school run, so the superb habitat here was probably the best option. There was much the same on offer as yesterday, but the hastily buzzed chattering of a Sedge Warbler was audible today, the slight change in wind direction carrying it across the water from the reed and scrub to the north of the main road. Of three Common Buzzards that showed, two were probably a pair interacting high above, whilst the third had to fend off the attentions of a Carrion Crow.


April 20th

With a bit of time between finishing work and picking up from school, I decided to visit East Ruston to see if anything of interest was on the fen and surrounds there. Buzzards again featured during my drive home when two slowly flew across the road as I passed between Dilham and Honing before they thermalled skywards together. Despite a chill breeze, it was a beautiful afternoon and at the fen I opened the car door to the songs of Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Willow Warblers. A few Swallows were swooping over the body of water to the north of the road, adjacent to the common known as the Allotment. With them were two Sand Martins and all occasionally flew off to hawk a while over the wooded backdrop. From where I stood I heard a Cetti's Warbler blast out its short, loud song and soon after it was answered from across the water by another rival bird. The reedier fen to the south of the road contained two singing Reed Warblers, unseen in the Phragmites, and I was a little surprised that I was hearing these this year before the more hurried song of Sedge Warbler, which normally arrive slightly earlier than their unstreaked cousins. Birds of prey were enjoying the sunny skies here too and 4 Kestrels circled up as did another distant Buzzard. All too soon I had to leave, and from the school pickup the route home took us through Ingham, where a flock of 22 Stock Doves were noted feeding together on a newly drilled field.

Lack of time meant that I couldn't take Ossie over to the cliffs as I'd hoped, so instead we opted for a walk up the lane and around the paddocks. This turned out to be the right move, for along a hedge that runs along the edge of the meadows at Lower Farm, a flash of rufous as a bird flitted up alerted me to a Redstart, rather distant but still close enough to see his black face and bright white brow. Hopefully he'll be there again, but closer, tomorrow.


April 18th

With the wind yesterday finally moving away from the north I was expecting to see some bits and bobs this morning. I'd had a quick look towards the cliffs quite late last evening, two summer plumage Golden Plovers flying around the field by Upton Way being all that was of note. As it turned out, my expectations for the day were to some extent met. Ossie and I had hardly stepped out of the gate this morning when a Swallow slipped into view over the meadow opposite where it hawked flies in the company of a Sand Martin. A little further and a Blackcap gave a short burst of song from the thicket near College Farm, this and the Swallow being my first in Happisburgh this year, although I've recorded both species elsewhere for about two weeks now. Another Blackcap was singing behind Laurel Lodge where a Willow Warbler was avidly feeding and attempting to sing amongst the fresh green buds of a Sycamore. He appeared more concerned with food than advertising for a mate, so my guess is that he hadn't long arrived; he certainly wasn't present yesterday morning. Once home, I was in the garden when I heard another familiar song not heard since last summer. I walked around to the front of the house and there was the performer, a male Common Whitethroat, fresh in from his winter break somewhere probably south of the Sahara, back at home in Happisburgh. I spent most of the rest of the day at home and around the garden and on a couple of occasions when looking up, I twice caught sight of single Sparrowhawks and a female Marsh Harrier which was passing high and to the north-west.

With reference to the large flock of Common Buzzards on
Friday, I had an e-mail yesterday from a friend informing me of two more large groups seen in east Norfolk on Saturday morning; nine over Winterton and 14 over Great Yarmouth. Were the latter the same group as mine, reorienting south for an easier Channel crossing perhaps? Another e-mail brought these two lovely photos of a Barn Owl taken at Lessingham recently. Many thanks Bob.

Barn Owl, Lessingham - © Bob Cobbold


April 16th

I see a few Common Buzzards in Happisburgh most years and this afternoon, as I let Ossie onto the garden, I wasn't surprised to notice a brown, medium sized raptor with obvious pale windows towards the end of each wing circling overhead. It was a Common Buzzard and I watched it for a few seconds before scanning for anything else that may be overhead. I immediately saw another, a quick check through the binoculars confirming it as a second Common. When I scanned with the naked eye again, I was quite shocked to see a stack of Buzzards circling quite low, just beyond the end of our garden over Lessingham. Bins raised, I counted; six, seven, plus the original two... that's nine. Bins down, there were more! In total, I counted 13 of them, all soaring and gaining height. I had never witnessed such a large flock in the county before, my previous best being six on an April evening at Ebridge Mill whilst out with my Dad and Keith Bailey back in the 1970's. There was quite a lot of low, scuddy cloud around, as there has been on and off for several days, into which some of the Buzzards soon began to disappear. It seems that they then topped out of this particular thermal, for they followed a westward glide until some half mile west of our house where they found another and began to spiral up once more. Again, some of them vanished at times into the cloud base, but I'm fairly certain that all 13 of them drifted off to the north-west. As to their origins, I don't believe for one second that they were 'local' birds, although it is possible that a minority were, so it is likely that they were true migrants that may have got lost in the low 'sea-scud' and drifted across the North Sea before re-orienting northwards. It will be interesting to see if any further significant Buzzard movement is noted over the weekend.


April 9th

Todays highlight came as I was walking Ossie homewards just after 10:00am when an overflying Gull seemed just a bit too white to be a Black-headed. The penny dropped after a couple of seconds; it was a near adult Mediterranean Gull, complete with full, jet black hood, a scarlet bill and a small dark mark towards the very tip of each wing. Meds are regularly seen at Walcott but this was the first I had seen inland here and it appeared to be purposefully passing northwards quite high over the fields. If there can be a downside to watching a pristine adult Med Gull, it has to be the fact that I was just a few hundred yards along the lane from my home and the bird, having passed almost directly over, would have made a good addition to the garden list!


April 7th

Three Carrion Crows and a Grey Heron overflew School Common Road on an easterly bearing this morning and six Fieldfares at the paddocks were feeding up in preparation for their Spring migration. The duskiness of winter plumage has mostly left their bills, the dark tip now contrasting strongly with the banana yellow of the remainder. Back home, a Sand Martin flew south across the garden.


April 5th

At 6:20am, Ossie and I were striking out towards the lighthouse along the track known as Rollesby Way. We'd already seen a local Barn Owl hunting the verges but with cloudy skies and iminent rain borne on a chilly westerly, I didn't hold out much hope of any decent visible migration. As it turned out, I was pretty much spot on, but a couple of surprises made our hour and a half worthwhile. Walking across the Decca site, a large bird with quick wingbeats drew my attention. It was a Marsh Harrier, probably a couple of hundred yards offshore and well above the height of even the higher cliffs at Happisburgh. It was flying slightly less than parallel to the shore and upon reaching the broken end of Beach Road, it turned and flew inland over the lighthouse. Was it a bird that had left the Stubb Mill roost and was moving north or was it completing an overnight crossing of the North Sea? That will remain a mystery, but it was an interesting sighting nonetheless. Whilst watching the incoming Harrier, a Grey Wagtail flew south, calling as it passed, my first through Happisburgh this year. Also along our way I noted three 'alba' Wagtails, five Meadow Pipits and a couple of flocks of Woodpigeons (17 & 11) heading north and the Sand Martin count at the colony had risen to 13. The large field south of Upton Way was playing host to two smart, black-breasted male Golden Plovers but these didn't stay long, the calls of two more passing overhead luring them, and all four flew off to the west. Later in the day, Chiffchaffs were noted in song dotted around the parish, and a slippery Weasel was seen briefly along Blacksmiths Lane. A short stop at Walcott seafront early pm was quiet although there were 25 Turnstones resting on one of the groynes.

Elsewhere in north-east Norfolk this afternoon I recorded my first Blackcap of the year in song whilst watching a female Tawny Owl, live on 'nestboxcam', as she incubated her precious clutch in the warm afternoon sun. At Honing, a brief stopover in likely looking habitat soon turned up the 'pitchoo, - pitchoo' of Marsh Tit, and a pair were watched close to the road. Also here were Chiffchaff, two Treecreepers (including a singing male) and a pair of Long-tailed Tits gathering nesting material. Another brief stop at East Ruston treated me to my first Swallow of the year and a fine adult male Marsh Harrier which was hunting over the allotment reedbed. A fearless Muntjac was also seen as I drove through East Ruston, showing complete disregard to my slowly passing car as it browsed the verge.


April 4th

Another early start saw Ossie and I heading down to Cart Gap at 6:30am. On the way there, a chacking call was heard which turned out to be that of a Fieldfare which flew low across the fields, possibly one of the last I shall see this Spring. At the south end of Doggetts Lane some 40 Linnets were busily feeding in the edge of a field, occasionally bursting forth as one noisy unit to perch on the overhead lines. They seemed fairly settled here, but six flying south kept going so were likely passage birds. Again, there was little evidence of much passage and two 'alba' Wagtails south and nine Meadow Pipits north were all that I noted in the hour I was out.

I spent some time after lunch doing jobs around the garden, and my work was interrupted at about 3:20pm as I paused to watch a Common Buzzard pass high south, it's glide occasionally broken by a slow flap of the wings.


April 3rd

An early fine start soon turned to rain which persisted until very early afternoon. I had to nip to North Walsham before 1pm and as I drove through East Ruston the last few raindrops were falling as the cloud gave way to blue skies. A Sparrowhawk was wasting no time as he spiralled upwards over Mown Fen. Approaching North Walsham, the thought of 'there ought to be Buzzards up today' coincided with the sighting of a large bird high over the south-east of the town, and a Common Buzzard is what it proved to be. The homeward journey was interrupted at Witton by two more, circling in the warm sunshine, and I saw another, precariously perched in a twiggy treetop, at East Ruston allotment as I stooped to see if anything was on the open water there. Aside from the Buzzard, a Chiffchaff was in song and an unseen Cettis Warbler gave a megaphonic blast from the denser waterside scrub.

I'd not walked Ossie this morning as we'd missed the early fine weather and I was hopeful for another fine spell later. Besides, it was my birthday, and it was nice to spend the morning with the family. Our walk was pretty uneventful, but a Grey Heron heading towards the coast was noteworthy. It may have been an outbound migrant, and as they are not all that regular in the parish, I focussed on it to watch it pass. I soon refocussed though, as also in view, but much more distant, was another Buzzard, circling high with a Carrion Crow, another Common for the day. Just to add the full stop and an underline to my earlier premonition, a mid afternoon trip into Stalham was interrupted as yet another Common Buzzard was watched circling low over Moat Farm Barns on the Happisburgh/Lessingham boundary.


April 2nd

A reasonably early morning circuit to the south-east of the village in a chilly westerly breeze turned up little of note, and migrant passage was very limited with three 'alba' Wagtails - Pied or White - heading north along the cliffs and single Meadow Pipit, a few Linnets and Starlings heading south. Offshore, a lone Dark-bellied Brent Goose passed west and a dozen or so Gannets were slowly milling southwards.


March 30th

Yesterday had been really rather disappointing and a morning walk down to Cart Gap, up Doggetts Lane and along the cliffs to the village was unproductive. All I noted was a 26 strong party of Linnets feeding in some rank grasses along a field edge. The weather has turned somewhat cooler and this has had an effect on bird movement. I carried on to the Coast Watch, following the track inland to Blacksmiths Lane then walked the churchyard, onto Whimpwell Street and Lighthouse Lane before tracking across the fields and home. South of the lighthouse were six more Linnets but not a single summer migrant was to be found. Even Sunday's Sand Martins appeared to have deserted. Taking a different tack this morning, I decided to stick to walking Ossie along our home lane, as far as the paddocks to see if the cover here was sheltering anything interesting. Birds that stop actively migrating because of poor weather, tiredness and hunger, or because they find themselves confronted by a natural barrier such as the North Sea, will seek out cover to provide shelter and a source of nourishment - somewhere to rest. From the air, the paddocks and surrounds must appear as a small oasis on the edge of the rather barren looking fields with no more than grassy banks separating them, and this morning I soon chanced upon a cracking male Firecrest busily feeding in a Hawthorn hedge, occasionally giving out short snatches of it's high pitched song. A real jewel of a bird, I missed out on seeing one last year, so was pleased to once again catch up with what is often a favourite amongst birders. If you don't know what a Firecrest looks like, Google Image search it and you'll soon see why!


March 28th

With the clement weather continuing, I drove slowly past East Ruston Common this morning, window down listening for birdsong, noting the song of at least two Chiffchaffs. I did the same at Briggate where I could hear another. A Common Buzzard overhead, low down, was no doubt as local as I to this part of Norfolk. My good lady and I walked Ossie along the beach later in the morning but little appeared to be passing through, save for a couple of Cormorants and a few groups of Gulls, many of which were immature Commons. It was nice, however, to hear once again the buzzing calls of a Sand Martin as three of them were back prospecting the nesting burrows at the clifftop colony. A birding friend, Jim, who often visits the area, contacted me during the evening to say he had seen three Swallows along the cliffs here this afternoon and that two female Black Redstarts were once again flycatching close to the Beach Road pay & display. Incidentally, it was on this date in 1999 that a Great Spotted Cuckoo made it on to the Happisburgh list when one, which had originally been found at Waxham and was tracked northwards, was watched in the gardens along Rollesby Way and near the Decca site.


March 27th

Spring marches on and there come continued sightings of many summer species from around Norfolk and with Swallow, House Martin, Willow Warbler, Ring Ouzel and Osprey all being reported. Many fortunate observers had also been enjoying two or three of a mini UK invasion of several Alpine Swifts that have stopped off in the county in recent days. Work committments meant that Ossie's walk had to wait until later in the afternoon, so we headed out across Rollesby Way towards the lighthouse sometime after 4pm. Not long after heading out along the grassy track I was treated to a surprise reminder that Spring isn't all about summer migrants arriving as two large, brown birds suddenly sprang up from behind the low bank and flew out over a barren field; they were both Short-eared Owls. I tracked one to my right and it dropped down on the bank surrounding another field where it sat, turning it's large round head, checking for danger with large, yellow eyes. Scanning back, the second bird was soon relocated sitting 150 yards or so distant, in the open of the big field. It too sat there just looking around so after a while I left it undisturbed. A Sand Martin was over the fields a little further on and a small party of resting birds just south of Upton Way were 11 Golden Plovers, one of which was a handsome, black-bellied male. As we headed back, I could see neither Owl but then, just as we reached the place from where they had originally erupted, one flew out from behind the bank again. It obviously preferred the cover offered by the emergent vegetation to sitting in an open field, and I followed this one until it dropped out of sight close to where the other had landed. As with most Owls, the Short-eared hunts mostly at night, but it is one of the more regular of our native Owls to be seen hunting in daylight hours. Short-eared Owl's usually occur as a passage migrant within Happisburgh, most often in the Autumn when they can sometimes be seen flying in from the sea, and I've no doubt that todays birds were two outbound birds waiting for the right time to head back out across the North Sea.


March 26th

I walked out to the Coast Watch this afternoon in the hope that there may possibly be a Black Redstart there. The remains of the old wartime radar and coastal battery sometimes hosts them, and the semi-permanent muck heap no doubt helps with the attraction. Two had been reported from the car park in the village two days previously but I'd had no luck with them there yesterday. On reaching the clifftop, I had to turn back somewhat disappointed as there was nothing of note to see. On the way out, the paddock I'd passed had appeared empty, but on my return a small bird atop the stables looked interesting. It was my hoped for quarry; a female Black Redstart. She sat quite still for a while before flitting down to the grass to seize a hapless insect and then moved on to the wooden railings that border the paddock. Another movement just beyond was, pleasingly, another Black Redstart in an almost identical plumage and both contentedly fed by dropping to the grass and flying back up to the fence to eat their capture before, with quivering rusty tails, seeking out more. Black Redstarts are now a very limited breeding species in the UK with perhaps less than 30 confirmed breeding pairs, and most that are seen are migrant birds passing through. In the early 1940's the species found that the huge number of bomb damaged buildings, left behind in the aftermath of WW2, were ideal nesting sites, and numbers significantly increased, only to fall again as our towns and cities were rebuilt. More info on the species' history in the UK can be found by following this link.

Black Redstart, Happisburgh - 26th March 2010


March 20th

After a brilliantly sunny start cloud cover soon increased and although remaining quite temperate, the weather tried to catch us out at times with some showers that became more frequent towards the days end. Ossie and I had a nice long walk today taking in Doggetts Lane, up along the cliffs and then through the village, returning to take the track across the fields south of the lighthouse via Lighthouse Lane. I'm sure an earlier start would have produced much more in the way of visible migration but even late morning it was apparent that a few Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits were heading west. Heading for the village from the Decca site the wide grassy strip is always worth a careful scan and this morning it had attracted, as I was hoping for, a male Wheatear. In recent days there have been a few sightings of this summer visitor at watchpoints around the coast and mid-March is prime time for seeing the first returning birds. I watched him closely for a while, as I always do with the first one of the year, relishing the feeling that better birding days are not too far away now. Pressing on, we reached the village and I was a little surprised to see a Stoat scurrying along the cliff edge, it's black-tipped tail held aloft as it raced for cover. In the background a Chiffchaff gave a brief burst of song to further enhance the 'Spring is in the air' feel.

I'd taken some video of the Wheatear but, due to a technical hitch, had wiped the file so I returned in the afternoon to try again.
Heading up Doggetts Lane a male Reed Bunting dropped onto the path where he rested for a few minutes before strongly flying off west. Also present, which hadn't been there on my earlier passage, was a flock of 20 or so Meadow Pipits, avidly feeding on the turf and marram in one of the gardens. On arrival at my destination, a Wheatear immediately showed, but it was a female. A couple of people walking the beach disturbed her and she flew to one of the huge boulders where the original male suddenly appeared on the sand, and over the next half hour I managed to take some more footage from the top of the cliff.


March 19th

A relatively mild - for March anyway - south-westerly had me hoping for something to indicate that the winter was inevitably losing it's grip on us and I was rewarded with three Sand Martins hawking westwards as I strolled along the clifftop by the Coast Watch. A few were reported around the county yesterday, but I'd had to wait a little longer for a bird that often marks a watershed in the birding year; the first summer migrant. Little else was apparently moving. Offshore, Gulls were 'milling around' at best and a couple of Red-throated Divers passed westwards. Interestingly, a single Cormorant flying to the east was the first I had seen in Happisburgh this year. Familiar garden birds are often forgotten when it comes to talk of migrants, but six Great Tits which flew out of the hedges near The Forge and gained height as they flew off west were no doubt just that. Mechanised farming operations were underway in the fields just behind the Coast Watch and four Pied Wagtails attracted to the resultant disturbed soil were accompanied by two male White Wagtails which, like the male Pied, had yet to acquire absolutely full summer plumage.

I almost had a collision with a Sparrowhawk this afternoon as I drove a narrow back road into Ingham. It shot through a gap in the hedge to my left and, with a deft wing flick, missed my nearside and continued flying very low to the road only three or four feet in front of me, totally unperturbed it seemed. For those few privileged seconds it almost felt as though I was riding on the little hunters back...


March 17th

Early this afternoon I latched onto two interesting raptors as they soared high, just east of our garden. I was washing up at the time and got a funny look from the other half as I exclaimed "They're Buzzards!", grabbed my 'bins' and ran outside. They were Buzzards, two Commons, and they continued to spiral for a while before levelling out and heading inland, slowly losing altitude. Ten minutes or so later a male Sparrowhawk gained height over the gardens and drifted off to the north.


March 16th

Today was simply glorious. The temperature reached double figures, a T-shirt was enough whilst working in the garden and a Peacock butterfly was on the wing in the village. I'd not been out to the Coast Watch side of the village for what felt like months so, bundling Ossie into the car, I headed over that way. I love this piece of Happisburgh and it always has a 'birdy' feel to it. Most of the fields out here remain as bare ploughland and I contemplated what may be grown this year; potatoes would be good perhaps for nesting Yellow Wagtails, sugar beet for Ringed Plover or even Oystercatcher and peas are always worth a scan later in the Spring for migrant Dotterel. Today though, an early Martin or the first Wheatear was far more likely. As it happened, I didn't see any proper Summer visitors but my walk was still most rewarding. Peering over the cliff, a Meadow Pipit flitted from the grassy face onto a bare ridge. Two other small birds joined it; another Meadow and a drab grey, more heavily under-streaked Rock Pipit, not yet showing any trace of a pink flush to it's breast, a feature of the Scandinavian race 'littoralis' often passing through coastal Norfolk at this time of year. It may even be that this race is the most regular wintering form of Rock Pipit in east Norfolk.

A few Corvids over on a westerly bearing were Rooks, and shortly after another passed through with a Jackdaw for company. I felt there ought to be a raptor or two on the move in such weather conditions and a searching scan back towards Walcott soon turned up a high passing Sparrowhawk following the coast south. Scanning back another, larger, bird had me thinking 'raptor' as it approached on motionless wings. Very quickly I was thinking Peregrine and, sure enough, that's what it was. It remained high as it got closer but then turned and headed inland, perhaps to cause havoc with the wildfowl at East Ruston.


March 15th

As I walked back towards the house from feeding our Bantams at around 07:50 I heard the soft murmurings of a Goose. I looked up and had a naked eye, rear on view of two smallish grey Geese heading north-westwards, but such views were too inconclusive to enable their identification. They were most likely a couple of Pink-feet, but the call could also have belonged to White-fronted Goose and I went indoors rather annoyed at myself for not having my binoculars within easy reach at that moment.

Things did pick up though, for I gave the dog a good walk out and we headed across the track to the Decca site, along the cliffs to the village and back via Lighthouse Lane. Spring was in the air and several Skylarks were announcing it to the world as they sang high above their invisible territories. Two Meadow Pipits were each staking out their own claim to a piece of Happisburgh with their much shorter song-flighting display. Few birds seemed to be actively moving through, although this may have been largely down to the fact that my walk wasn't exactly an early one. Despite this, a party of eight Siskins bounced low across a field as they progressed northwards. A clifftop field held two, perhaps a pair, of Ringed Plover and turning to scan the sea I noticed a distant adult Gannet slowly passing. The most notable sighting of the days was close to where I had left my car, for shortly after leaving for home I stopped to check out an interesting Partridge which turned out to be a male Grey. Even more notable was the fact that his mate was contentedly crouched beside him...


March 12th

Walking homeward along School Common Road this morning I was pleased to find a Woodcock in the emergent undergrowth in the more wooded section adjacent to Laurel Lodge. Upon seeing me it ran, only to stop after a few feet and still in full view. Having had good views of many already this year I didn't hang around and risk disturbing it further. I'm not sure what size of territory Woodcocks need for breeding, but I would imagine it is probably considerably more than is on offer here. This bird is probably one that is re-orientating back towards continental Europe and is no doubt increasing it's fat score before facing the gruelling flight ahead.


March 10th

On Sunday afternoon I took a phone call from my Mum and Robin who were in Witton Woods. They had been walking through the woods, enjoying the sunshine, in the hope of finding some Crossbills when they were lucky enough to come across a party of 10-12 feeding in a stand of Larches; the tree of choice, it seems, whenever Crossbills turn up at this site. Speaking to Robin that evening, he talked of one he had seen with white wing bars, and although unlikely, the possibility of it being a Two-barred Crossbill meant it warranted further investigation. Anyway, even if it wasn't one, the Crossbills, along with several Siskins and some Redpolls, would be worth seeing on their own merit. Some local birders spent the next few days looking at them and I managed to visit on Wednesday for about an hour. Walking up the track towards the favoured trees I heard the excited 'chip, chip, chip' calls of several birds as they took flight and on looking up, I could see a group of 25-30 quite bulky finches flying away. Positioning myself so as to be able to watch any returning birds, I waited. There was movement amongst the high branches but viewing against the cold grey sky, trying to get a clear view of small birds in the thick tangle of Larch twigs and clusters of small cones, wasn't easy. A male Siskin was atop one tree, singing his heart out, and a general twittering from other Siskins and at least one Lesser Redpoll filled the air. It was wonderful to experience but standing around, I felt rather cold. Two Goldcrests were noteworthy, they were almost absent from the coast last autumn and my first of the year, and Coal Tits were best described as abundant. Eventually a couple of larger birds drew my eye and I was pleased that some Crossbills had returned to feed. They remained silent as they fed and getting good clear views was difficult, but this small group were all Common Crossbills, males and females. All the finches occasionally took flight, seemingly spooked by something unseen by me, but they soon returned. I watched a couple of Siskins and a Coal Tit come to drink at a small puddle and had time been on my side, I would have staked out the puddle for longer as Finches, being seed eaters, need to drink regularly and in doing so they usually give good views. I didn't see the flock of 25-30 birds anymore but speaking this evening to another birder who visited today, I learned that perhaps as many as 40-50 Crossbills may be present.

A male (top) and female Common Crossbill, Witton Woods,
March 2010 © Bob Cobbold


March 7th

Sheringham was my destination this morning. I had to drop the girls off at the Little Theatre for the day and whilst there I thought it would be rude not to stop at the seafront and see if the juvenile Glaucous Gull was still around. It had already been reported from early on and a scan from the clifftop near the Esplanade enabled me to quickly locate it on the sea in the company of a few Herring Gulls, probably somewhere opposite The Crown PH. I spent a short while watching it on the sea and flying around a few times before it landed on a groyne post. Back in the 1970's-1980's an individual returned each winter for many years, scavenging the shoreline between Blakeney Point and Weybourne and earning the affections of locals who knew him either as 'Weybourne Willie' or, more latterly, 'George'. It would be nice to think that today's bird will return to this piece of coast in winters to come and earn it's place in birding lore.

This 1st winter Glaucous Gull is a popular attraction at Sheringham. © Bob Cobbold

Seeing scarce or rare visitors is always hugely enjoyable, but a greater thrill comes from finding your own good birds. As I was approaching Happisburgh on my homeward drive a movement over the 'allotment' at Whittletons Farm caught my eye. It was instantly recognisable as a male Hen Harrier and judging by its full adult plumage, a different bird to the one I saw at Cart Gap in February. For birding enjoyment, it just edged the Glaucous for me...


March 2nd

Following Sunday's miserable, grey rain we're now enjoying a welcome spell of sunny, more clement weather. The nights may be icily cold, and there's a layer of frost on the screen to contend with each morning, but the thought of Spring just around the corner lifts the spirits. Walking out beyond Moat Farm this morning I caught a snatch of song from a Reed Bunting. It was a male, singing from a low down bush adjacent to a reed filled dyke, and he had yet to fully develop his black head and bib of summer plumage. I paused for a short while, for although not a particularly awe inspiring bird in this guise, and with a rather monotonous song, Reed Buntings are never very plentiful in Happisburgh. One was present not too far from here in December, before disappearing on December 31st, and I wondered if it was possibly the same individual.

This Reed Bunting is beginning to show the black head feathering and white collar of summer plumage.
© Arthur Grosset

Yesterday, mid-morning, I happened to be in the garden, discussing some planned work on the house with a tradesman. The sky bore a sense of expectation; bright and mostly sunny but with enough billowy clouds as a background against which to pick out a passing raptor. I can't help sky-gazing on days like this and I suddenly found myself with an adrenaline flutter of excitement in my stomach that most seasoned birders feel as they spot a larger 'bop' ~ bird of prey. Soaring at a fair height just south of our garden was a larger, broad winged bird and I ran for my nearby binoculars. I'd already guessed what it probably was and, raising my glasses, I could see it was a Common Buzzard. It continued circling at height for a few minutes before abandoning it's thermal and gliding towards Eccles and the coast on fixed wings. March and April are prime months for Buzzards to pass through the county and several are recorded each year at this time. Separating true migrating birds from more local wanderers isn't easy, for the species benefits from a healthy population in east Norfolk. I have, however, often watched these birds soaring over and away from their territories, but they invariably return home after a short while. With today's bird heading for the coast, there was a reasonable chance it was a migrant...


February 28th

It's been a horrendously wet day, quite unpleasant when I walked Ossie out. I had to drive past Walcott just after noon and there, on the seawall, sat the adult Mediterranean Gull now beginning to show quite an extensive black hood.


February 27th

I briefly stopped at Whitlingham CP this morning but none of the recent 'good' birds remained it seemed. Even the redhead Smew that was there on Thursday had disappeared. So I decided to head home and check out the sea from the RNLI in the village. Twenty minutes here added two new species to my Happisburgh year list with two single, calling, Rock Pipits flying north and 11 Eider, including 6 adult drakes, heading south. Rock Pipits do occur within the parish as a wintering visitor but todays birds somewhat had the feel of birds passing through, perhaps an early sign of Spring passerine migration. On the sea were a party of six Common Scoter, one of which was a jet black adult male, the small orange patch on his bill visible through the telescope. Two dark-bellied Brents which flew in from the horizon circled the Scoter a couple of times then landed on the water next to them.

I walked Ossie along the lane early afternoon and the occasional sunshine, coupled with a milder feel to the air than of late, had inspired both Greenfinch and a Skylark to songflight. A couple of skeins of Pink-feet also overflew the village mid-afternoon, circa 50 heading north-west and 10 flying south. Would these be my last of the first winter period? Last year I didn't record any after February 28th, when a flock could be heard calling as they flew over after dark. A slightly unexpected bonus towards the end of the day came in the form of a Tree Sparrow overflying our garden, giving the distinctive 'tlip, tlip' call which drew my attention as it passed. Was this another sign of early Spring migration?


February 23rd

Checking my e-mails today I was pleased to see one with details of a marked Pink-footed Goose I had seen towards the end of last year. It was around Christmas when I became aware of a flock of Pink-feet regularly feeding on sugar beet tops in a field just north of the water tower in East Ruston. I 'guesstimated' there to be in the region of 2,000 Geese present on December 28th and amongst them was one sporting a grey neck collar marked with capitals 'PHJ'. A history of sightings of this bird can be viewed below.

Driving north from Norwich mid-afternoon today I chanced upon two more Common Buzzards lazily exploiting the north-easterly wind over some woodland. I couldn't help but pull over and enjoy their majesty for a while.


February 19th

Once again it's a dull, grey day, rather wet too. Wednesday had given a brief hint of the Spring to come, especially when the sun broke through late in the morning and the day was almost approaching gloriousness. With many birds singing forth ~ Dunnock, Robin, Wren, Chaffinch, Mistle Thrush and Blackbird all noted ~ and the numerous bulbs that are breaking through, testing the air temperature it seems, there was definitely a flavour of better times ahead. Since my riverside walk it's been a quiet time for me, although Chinese Water Deer have featured most days on the dog's walk and a fearless Muntjac was openly browsing a farmers crop (or the weeds in between) in the afternoon sunshine at East Ruston midweek. I have, however, been rather fortunate on the larger raptor front and chanced upon Common Buzzards, and both Marsh and Hen Harriers on my travels. Driving to work one afternoon a Buzzard was airborne over the A1151 at Beeston. Pulling over to check it out through the sunroof I could see it was a Common, slowly drifting over with another bird a little higher up. They were both typically dark looking adults with pale horseshoe breast bands. The following afternoon a quick venture along the Cart Gap road was rewarded when a male Hen Harrier came through, hunting the boundaries to the fields where I'd seen Merlin at the beginning of the month. It wasn't quite a full adult, showing some brown immaturity on it's mantle, but was a stunning bird nonetheless. Driving home about 4pm yesterday an adult female Hen Harrier was seen passing low over fields at Brumstead. She was probably making her way to a roost in the Broads, looking for a last meal on the way. Rather worryingly, a field over which she passed is the intended site for two large wind turbines. Marsh Harriers were noted at Ingham, where a Rook with a white seconary feather in each wing was also seen, and passing south over fields in Lessingham, the latter a fine adult male.

But back to Buzzards. I had to go to North Walsham on Saturday last, and passing through Ridlington it was snowing rather heavily. A Buzzard was over fields to the north of the road, quite high up, and a Crow was intercepting it. I pulled over for a look, thinking how large and long winged it appeared to be, but was only treated to a rear on view as it disappeared into the mini blizzard. Coupled with the apparent size, the strange Harrier-like demeanour to it's flight profile suggested that it may have been a Rough-legged Buzzard, but views were just too inconclusive. I had no time to follow it up but later on, when the weather had cleared, I tracked through Witton and Ridlington in the hope of relocating it. I did see Buzzards, five sightings in all of perhaps four different birds, but all were Common. Brief views of a possible 'good' bird that has to go unidentified is a frustrating part of birding, but the moment still makes up a square in the patchwork of birding memories. Bob was out and about too, and he noted two more Common Buzzards over East Ruston. He also managed to find and photograph two that I had already seen perched in a dead tree at Witton as they enjoyed the warming sunshine, oblivious to the nearby barrage from pigeon shooters.

Common Buzzards, Witton - 13.02.2010. Bob Cobbold

Having seen a Rough-leg not too many miles away on the last day of 2009, it is quite possible that one is quietly wintering in the area, so I shall be keeping a lookout.

Addendum ~ The Buzzards kept coming! We had to visit Coltishall this afternoon and whilst passing Wayford Bridge I could see two Commons floating over the marshes opposite the Woodfarm Inn. Ten minutes or so later, as we were leaving Hoveton for Coltishall on the B1354, another Common was heading north, low over fields at Belaugh.


February 7th

I was in Norwich at 8am as I had an appointment for a windscreen replacement. But what should I do whilst the work was undertaken? The ‘Whitlingham Wildfowl Festival 2010’ was tempting but would have necessitated a taxi ride and two hours, minus travel time, just wasn’t enough to do justice to the site or the scarcities on show there. Besides, I didn’t have my ‘scope with me. I wasn’t going to sit and read my rights as a consumer for that length of time, that could wait until something goes wrong, so I elected to take a stroll along the riverside walk that runs out of the city from near the Gibraltar Gardens PH up to the ring road. Peering over Dolphin Bridge, four buffy-brown balls of fluff all dived simultaneously and surfaced their heads through the floating mat of weed at the quayside. They were Little Grebes, quite a charismatic little bird with an enquiring eye and almost a wry smile at the corners of their mouths. The name Dabchick kind of suits them. They soon resumed a normal, unworried feeding pattern and I left them in peace. The path runs along the north side of the Wensum and very soon you find yourself forgetting about the residences and industry as you become lost in looking for wildlife in the tall, Ivy clad trees and boggy margins along the way. I hadn’t gone too much further when I saw a brief flash of electric blue as a Kingfisher left an unseen perch over a narrow inlet. Neither whistling ‘peeep-eep-eep’ nor repeat sighting, that one brief moment was all I was going to be treated to. Some particularly boggy, wet and rank vegetation that I passed perhaps deserved a more cautious approach for a Water Rail suddenly exploded forth, giving me a rare but all too brief flight view of a species that is more often seen skulking around at ground level. I was hoping for Siskin or Redpolls in the numerous Alders that grow in the wet ground but drew a blank with both, although I did hear the flight call of an unseen flyover Redpoll. A bridge crosses the Wensum, over which is a piece of mature deciduous woodland which held a singing Stock Dove, the song of which I always like to hear, despite its monotony; ‘awoo-wuh, awoo-wuh, awoo-wuh...’ Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers were also hidden in the trees, their presence again betrayed by distinctive calls and a Nuthatch too was frustratingly not seen. Another call, heard once only and from the direction of the allotments, was probably given by our scarcest Woodpecker, the Lesser Spotted. It sounded like one but, many years ago when they were more numerous, their call was often closely mimicked by Starlings, so I couldn’t be sure if this was the real McCoy or an imposter. I paused a while but didn’t hear it again. The path through the woods led me to Dereham Road so I took the opportunity to nip down Heigham Street and peer through the gates of the water works to see if anything interesting was on the open water there. A few Gulls and nine Tufted Duck were hardly worth the extra few yards, but some good birds have been seen here in the past. I looked at the time and thought I really ought to be making tracks back to the windscreen depot. There was nothing new to see until I was almost back at the point where I had started my walk when a small brown flit landed and started ascending a tree trunk; Treecreeper, one I hadn’t seen for quite some time. It was a fearless individual, feeding at close range and allowing me to study the intricacies of it’s plumage as it probed each nook and cranny it discovered with its gently down curved bill. Treecreepers prefer mature woodland and do occur in north-east Norfolk, but it isn’t a species that I’ve come across in Happisburgh. I’ll have to check out some of the larger gardens more often for I’m sure they must visit from time to time. With my time up, I reflected on what had been a worthwhile two hours in the drizzle.

Driving to Catfield on the journey home, I soon saw the large herd of Swans that has been often reported during the winter. They were quite distant, and I had no ‘scope to hand, but the majority were Bewick’s with a smaller number of Mute and Whooper; circa 250 all tolled. Driving along some of the narrow lanes there allowed reasonable views but as many were asleep, an accurate specific count was impossible. One point I did note was the fact that, although some grey juvenile birds were present, the highest proportion of birds were snow white adults, a worrying indicator perhaps of a poor 2009 breeding season.

Checking my e-mail tonight I was pleased to see that Bob had sent me some superb photo’s of the recent Pale-bellied Brent Geese that have been around. The pictures below were taken at Sea Palling. Note the bird with the pale neck feathering which I noted at Walcott on January 24th.

Pale-bellied Brents at Sea Palling ~ Bob Cobbold


February 6th

I hadn't visited the paddocks at the top of lane recently so headed that way with Ossie this morning. I'd just passed College Farm, reaching the point where you can see across the field on the right, when I must have spooked a couple of Woodpigeons and a covey of Partridges that had been close to the hedgerow at a range of about 100 yards. They flew but soon landed on the grassy swathe that runs across the edge of the field, quickly trying to conceal themselves from danger, and I was somewhat taken aback to see they were Grey Partridges, ten of them. Since moving to Happisburgh I have seen the species on only very few occasions, and no more than two birds at any time, although I did count five together just into East Ruston in 2009. The weather this morning had become rather variably foggy and not wanting to get too close and disturb them further I watched through a small gap in the hedge. They soon regained their confidence and ventured out a little further into the field where I could see them better and judging from the brighter plumage of two of the birds I considered there to be two males and eight females. Of this I can't be 100% certain, and I hope to see them again in better light to confirm this. If my sexing of the birds was correct, and female Grey Partridges apparently hatch on average 15 chicks per clutch, a quick calculation will show that should they all find mates, the potential is there for 120 young birds to help boost the numbers of this much declined bird during 2010.

At Walcott mid-afternoon, the adult Mediterranean Gull was again on the beach with a flock of Black-headed Gulls but little else was to be seen in the cold grey murk.

This Snowdrop appeared in bloom in the garden a few days ago.


February 3rd

With the recent snow all gone my chances of seeing Woodcock in the parish again have been much reduced, so I was pleased to see one as it flew out from a neighbours garden this morning as I went to let our chickens out of their coop. I don't know who was the more startled, it or me, but it flew very close by then sharply jinked away and headed off in the direction of Lessingham. It became a welcome addition to my garden bird list too, species number 105 to have been seen either in or from the garden since September 2006. I walked Ossie out shortly after and we didn't go too far. We took a footpath across fields just along the lane with the rising sun behind us. It was very cold and the road was terribly slippery due to the hard frost which followed yesterdays persistent rain. I spied a face watching me from the long grass near Moat Farm's moat but had been half expecting to see the Chinese Water Deer anyway. I stopped to briefly look and the deer remained motionless, perhaps thinking I hadn't seen it. Maybe it recognised me and felt that I was no real threat to it as our paths have crossed numerous times. Walking a little further I let Ossie off the lead so he had the chance to stretch his legs a bit more. Hearing the deep 'honk' of a Goose I thought, "That's no Pink!" Looking back, three stocky Geese were passing south and they proved to be Greylags, a common enough feral species in the county but a quite irregular visitor to Happisburgh. Were these wild ones or just wandering Broadland birds? I'll never know, but they definitely hold more interest for me here compared to seeing them in the Broads.


February 1st

After the morning school run I took the long way home, checking for Brents at Walcott and then stopping at the seafront. There were no Geese and the North Sea was rather harshly pounding the concrete there, high tide coupled with a bit of a north-wester driving foamy water into the seawall. Hopefully it wasn't pushing quite so hard into the crumbling cliffs back at my home village. Against the cold, grey-brown briny sea the adult Mediterranean Gull stood out prominently as it hung above the waves.

I had a bit of time before the school pickup and as it was a lovely bright afternoon I decided to slowly drive down to Cart Gap in the hope of seeing some Geese on Sugar Beet tops there. As I passed down the lane two parties of Pinks headed over, 44 and 16, but the beet field held none. I turned around at the lifeboat station and headed back. On reaching my target field a large number of small passerines took to the wing, some 200 or so was my estimate, and from the brief views I had I felt they were mostly Finches and Larks. Pulling over I scanned for what I suspected may have spooked them, namely a Sparrowhawk, but was rewarded with a more exciting raptor in the form of a Merlin. It landed on the ground, looking round with bobbing head as it tried to pick out a likely prey item. A couple of times it flew around, only to land a short distance away, and at one point it walked into a shallow puddle but neither drank nor bathed. After maybe 15 minutes it flew to the top of a small bush then chased off northwards, scattering a small flock of Golden Plover. I followed it and watched it have a half-hearted stab at grabbing a Woodpigeon, the Pigeons size and weight perhaps proving too much. It disappeared after that but I was soon watching it in the field again as it had returned having successfully seized a small passerine. What it had caught I never properly saw, although it did have white outer feathers to a longish tail, and I suspected a Pied Wagtail. The Merlin was an immature bird and from the generally bluish cast to it's upperparts I judged it a male, although I have since read that females can have somewhat male like plumage. A single Linnet flew over while I was there and in the background, a Sparrowhawk hunted the gardens of Rollesby Way. The large flock of Finches and Larks didn't return so I'll have to save them for another day.

Merlin, Happisburgh - 01.02.2010

Just before I left, a movement in amongst the seeded Sugar Beet and Fat Hen was a 'Teddy bear' faced Chinese Water Deer. They really seem to be everywhere.


January 30th

Opening the curtains this morning it became apparent that overnight we had returned to a snowy landscape once again. It wasn't laying too deep so will hopefully not last too long and when the sun broke out during the morning I became aware of the dripping sounds of thawing. Out of the chill breeze the sun had some warmth and early this afternoon I came across two Little Owls obviously making the most of it. I already knew of one here and a couple of nights ago, as I walked Ossie out after dark, I could hear the eerie, almost childlike wailing of a pair calling to each other. Although Little Owls are widespread in Europe they were once a rare visitor to the UK, occasionally stopping to breed, but todays population traces back to a release of some birds towards the end of the Nineteenth century. Also enjoying the sunshine as I drove up the lane was a contented Chinese Water Deer, at least two of which are resident nearby. Whilst on the subject of small, introduced deer, a Muntjac was beside the A1151 at Sprowston early on Tuesday morning as I drove to work. I crossed my fingers as I passed that it wouldn't dash across in front of me as did a Water Deer a couple of years ago, a dash which led to it's untimely demise. Thankfully this time the deer stayed still.

Little Owl, Happisburgh - 30.01.2010

Chinese Water Deer, Happisburgh - 30.01.2010
The Pale-bellied Brent Geese were still present in the same field at Walcott last Sunday with 68 'Brents' feeding and loafing during the morning. It was difficult to accurately count the subspecific split but at least 35 of those present were hrota. One of them displayed an unusual paler stripe down both sides of it's neck which should render it individually identifiable should it be seen elsewhere. I'm not aware that they were present after this date but the same flock may account for a couple of small parties that have been seen a little further south along the coast. Four Dark-bellied Brents remained in the Walcott field until Friday 29th at least.