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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.