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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.