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Murmurings of content

Elephant in the room- I felt the blog needed a rebrand, fresh coat of paint. Now that you can detect and indeed explain the smell of freshly washed clothes, I can get back to business and at least aim to post more than once per quarter in 2019. Birds, beasts, books, Black Shuck: expect all, and then some.
I do enjoy Betwixtmas. Drams of Glen Keith, smashing through a new Shardlake novel and almost aimless wanderings about the patch. Family outing to Wheatfen today, pleased to note two feeding stations are attracting the attention of the gregarious Tit families including Marsh and Coal. A Nuthatch's machine gun-like call broke through the grey and a pair of Great-spotted Woodpecker engaged in a bit of will they, won't they courtship. On a run through the village yesterday I heard drumming, early maybe but indicative of the mild weather. After successfully test-driving some Christmas clothes, we retired to Coldham Hall where I can announce with surprise I enjoyed a pint of seas…

Reflections.

A great summer of wildlife to reflect upon. Looking back at my diary notes, a number of items jump off the page and I will embellish upon a few here.

Early August I caught up with a tiny percentage of the Pied Flycatcher influx. I left the girls for half an hour on Caister beach on the 3rd of August (thankfully they were there when I returned) and stumbled across a single bird feeding on flying ants perhaps amongst the gorse. The following day I met up with Tim at Waxham, had a good yarn about all things education, and whilst most birds had cleared out I still picked up one bird calling loudly overhead.

The 10th was an odd day for me. I saw a new bird for the UK in Spotted Crake, but views were particuarly underwhelming and did make me question the whole twitching thing once again. On reflection, the day was more about spending quality time with my uncle and I will probably remember it more for that and getting soaked on route back to the car.

On the 18th of August, with the M40 as a …

The best of The Patch and a Norfolk Day Walk

I led a cosy (ie few people attended) walk on Norfolk Day weekend, from The New Inn at Rockland out to the broad, river and back. It was advertised as a Bat walk but as with any dusk walk there was plenty of other wildlife to enjoy. By the staithe, a Lesser Stag Beetle scuttled along the path. Although the broad was quiet save Ducks in eclipse plumage, at the back a Bittern flew over the reedbed in the direction of Wheatfen. This was actually my first record of the year on the patch, having not made an early starts in April (this side of the river at least) where I would usually at least hear booming. As dusk entered darkness and a slightly blood-red moon rose, 2 Hobby hunted close to us, one eating a large Hawker on the wing as they tend to do. It was on the return leg that we connected with Bats, and initially plenty of them. At least 6 Noctule hawked over the river and scrub by Short Dyke, lots of feeding buzzes heard over the detector for the party to enjoy. These are Britain'…

A new feeder

The kind folk over at Vine House Farm https://www.vinehousefarm.co.uk/ recently sent me a new feeder to try out, which you can see in the photo below. The feeder sits perfectly on a ring designed to hold a seed or water bowl. It has a 'handle' at the back which can be secured to a (probably wider) pole if required. Initially, the birds were wary, no doubt as this looks a little different to anything else around. I filled it with suet pellets provided by Vine House, and it after a few days this was the hot feeder in the garden, plagued by juvenile Starlings, to the extent that the fat balls next to it are oft forgotten! Handily, I can change the inner part of the feeder to suit fat balls rather than pellets. This will be a useful test, as I will find out whether it is the nature of the new feeder design or indeed the food available that has meant the immature Starlings come back again and again. A further test will be the winter months, but in the meantime nice to enjoy the lo…

Away from home- Salcey Forest and Oundle

I've had the date in the diary for a while, and after the abject failure of Skipper hunting during the May half term week I was keen to make amends and do some more exploring in the Midlands. This time, the targets were Black Hairstreak and Wood White, before meeting up with friend Allan and an Oundle pub crawl. 
Upon arrival at the Horse trail (see below; confirmation I was in the right place thanks to the scribbled b.h. and star that could be a Butterfly on the sign?) I had walked a matter of metres before I was stopped in my tracks by a Purple Emperor that landed on the track and briefly fed on salts, sun-bathed and finally disappeared high into the canopy. An incredible encounter, and I did not once think to grab the camera of course. Onwards, and White Admirals were flighty but numerous. The Damselfy below is I believe a female Beautiful Demoiselle, a nice bonus if so as this is a species I had not counted on seeing, and indeed have not seen at all in the UK. I scanned the t…

Well, I talked that up!

Finally, Marsh Warbler week delivered on the patch. A message from Tim alerted me to the presence of a local bird so I headed down that evening (first time out of the house for a few days due to virus!) and in breezy but bright conditions I watched a male singing amongst a scrubby reedbed. I made a few notes of birds imitated: Blackbird, Song Thrush, Blue Tit, Common Tern, Swift, Wren, Oystercatcher, Reed Bunting, Swallow, Icterine Warbler (?) and Zitting Cisticola (?). The bird was seen well enough to observe the rump and pale fringes to tertial feathers. Also around were 2 Cuckoo.  I wonder as to the bird's origins. The species imitated are all resident in Northern France, Belgium and the low countries. I could not make out any Mediterranean species amongst its repertoire. Further birds have been recorded at a few locations on the Suffolk coast, and one at Strumpshaw Fen this Spring. I would tentatively suggest this bird has overshot its usual breeding patch by only a short dist…

Silent Spring?

I wonder what reader's thoughts are on the Spring of 2018 so far. Finally, and with relief all round, the Swifts and House Martins have returned to The Street, careering amongst the rooftops and trees in pursuit of prey invisible to our eyes. Swallows though appear lean in number. Regular walks through Claxton Marshes should be delivering Warblers aplenty, but it is just not happening. A guided tour round Surlingham Church Marsh in early May was a pleasure, but it has to be said unspectacular for birds. Cuckoos sang for the first week, then disappeared. We have had a Hobby over the house, and another at the marsh. The first fledgling Sparrow and Starlings are in the garden being fed by parents from the fat balls, life beginning anew. Things are happening, but the low density of our local birds is concerning.

I can only comment on what I see locally, and I am keenly aware that with this location I am somewhat spoiled. For example, an evening walk from Claxton to Rockland and back a…

Getting back into the patch

It hasn't taken long to wash away any post-Spain blues, with Spring in full swing in the South Yare Valley there is much to see and enjoy. The sun shone on the 16th and the first Butterflies emerged from hibernation, a pair of Brimstone in Claxton along with Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell at neighbouring Langley. Always a red letter day when the first Butterfly of the year is sighted, and I look forward to a Summer in search of more.

Amongst the mist and murk that the 12th bought, I recorded the first returning Warblers at Church Marsh. Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Blackcap were all welcome new for the year, and to be honest some have probably been around since earlier in the month. With Lesser Celandine and Grape Hyacinth in flower, it was beginning to feel like Spring, but the season was having to make every effort to please amidst misty cold conditions.

It was really this weekend gone that Spring could finally breathe, with temperatures today reaching almost …

A casual trip report- Southern Spain, Cadiz Province, April 2018

Back from a lovely week in Southern Spain, staying on the edge of delightful small town Prado del Rey in Cadiz Province. We flew with EasyJe, hired a car (essential) with Europcar, and stayed in the charming Casa Rural La Jaima, further details here: https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/VacationRentalReview-g608975-d5441033-LA_JAIMA_casa_rural-Prado_del_Rey_Sierra_de_Grazalema_Natural_Park_Province_of_Cadiz_A.html

At this point, I would like to thank John Cantelo for providing me with a PDF of his latest guide to Birding Cadiz Province. John was extremely helpful and is the go-to guy for any questions about birding in this region.

I intend to add a few photos, but currently the camera charger is out of view......

With this being a family holiday with no intention to travel too far (and alpine walking a challenge for a 1 year old) I spent a lot of time birding from the doorstep. Olive groves, scrub and lightly grazed hillsides made for a beautiful outlook and were home to a range of bird spec…

Thoughts on The Beast

With The Beast From The East in the rear view mirror, driving past the frozen drifts that scatter the countryside today I reflected on what was an unprecedented few days in my experience. I remember well digging my car out when I lived in Norwich around 5 years ago, before the call came in from work to remain at home. If anything, temperatures were even colder then, but this year the sheer amount of snowfall and strong winds caught almost everyone out. To be genuinely cut off in the village was a unique experience (the road to Rockland the only passable route, and the shelves of the village shop were ransacked with no plan nor recipe in mind) and I am sure we will talk about this for years to come.

The local wildlife made instant changes to behaviour. On the final day of February, a female Reed Bunting appeared amongst the snow in the back garden, and 2 males arrived over the next couple of days. Fieldfare and Mistle Thrush became firsts for the garden, both hanging around until Satur…

Hawfinch cracked

I began the half term week at Wrentham cemetery, whereby upon arrival I raised my head to the bare branches towering over the yews and there atop the tree was a Hawfinch, easy as that. I was starting to think this species was getting the better of me, having dipped at another Norfolk Churchyard on 2 occasions. This bird was soon joined by 2 more, and I enjoyed views of them feeding up high before flying low through the churchyard and disappearing into a Holly bush. Great to hear them calling too.

The weekend's WeBs counts were disappointing, and after a week of ice on the car early in the morning, I had hoped for more especially on Rockland Broad. Teal, Coot and Tufted Duck are expected species in small number. The Black-headed Gull pre-roost of 180 was more impressive. Teal and Mallard were the only birds I was able to record at Church Marsh, although the small private lake behind the church held at least 2 Wigeon and a male Shovelor, a first for the year. 2 Little …

WeBs recap and old red returns

My wife nonchalantly dropped into conversation that a Red Kite had been present for most of the day out the back of the house on Friday. Out for most of the day Saturday, I finally managed my own sighting earlier today. The heavy, drooping wings and forked tail unlike any other Raptor in the valley and a welcome return to the patch. I am almost convinced that breeding took place last summer, but from September onwards the birds disappeared and I never had the smoking gun in the form of a nest or a juvenile to prove my thinking. Hopefully this will be the year. In other local news, I am still enjoying at least 1 Tawny Owl on my drive home from work in the evenings. A bird remains around Pond Farm, and on Thursday evening I had a second near the old church. The bird at Pond Farm is around half a mile away from a substantial block of deciduous woodland, so unless it is using a garden or not breeding at all, this individual must be making a short commute each night to what on the face of …

Tawny in the hedge

For the last few days, arriving home in the dark via Carleton St. Peter I have been treated to splendid views of a Tawny Owl. If anyone reading knows where Pond Farm is, drive past there around 5-6pm and you have a bloody good chance of seeing this bird sat atop a hedge. One night, I pulled up alongside it and we just stared at each other for around half a minute until it grew a little more anxious and flew. I have watched it hover by a verge and drop into the undergrowth, and tonight I had a nice flight view over the road and beyond into the field by headlight. The local Tawnies are getting ready to raise a family once again, and are fairly vocal. Perhaps this bird is a youngster, as the territory does not seem ideal for breeding, but then one cannot tell how far they wander in a night.
Before the New Year we made a family visit to Santon Downham in the hope of connecting with the Parrot Crossbills. I did not let on about the tolerant Otter family on the river, but need not have worr…