I’d just reached the entrance to Amazona on this morning’s walk when a silent flock of small geese flew over the town, heading north west. Thinking they might be a latish flock of Pink-feet I lifted my binoculars. Turned out to be eleven Barnacle Geese. Entering Felbrigg Park through the main gates, I’d only gone a short distance when I distinctive call stopped me in my tracks. Five or six deep, resonate, ‘cronks’ echoed over The Great Wood. I couldn’t see through the tree canopy but the ‘owner’ was obviously a Raven. There was a record recently from the park – a ‘first for Felbrigg’ – and regular reports from the Roughton / Northrepps area. However, I always like to ‘see’ my birds before they make the list. It was pretty quiet thereafter, with most of the usual suspects putting in an appearance. Coot and Pochard numbers have doubled – two of each now present on the lake. Snipe numbers seemed to be increasing. I counted 22 this morning but Carol & Ken reported over 40 yesterday. Four Siskin, Marsh Tit and a couple of Treecreeper were all hanging around by the viewing screen. A pale-headed Goldcrest near the Ice House provided a moment of excitement! A couple of circling Sparrowhawk were the only distraction on the walk home.
In a week of competing priorities, including Bird Club, Cromer Green Spaces & Felbeck Trust stuff, I’ve only managed a couple of sea-front walks and a longer excursion, yesterday, to Felbrigg and back. The weather has been unseasonably warm, with Spring taking a sudden jolt forward. The new feeding station across the road is getting more attention and not just from the Jackdaws! This week Greenfinch and Chaffinch have both become regular diners – with occasional visits from our suburban Pheasant. Along the coast the numbers of feeding / roosting gulls has remained static, but I did see ‘Helsinki’ coming to someones lunch remains on West Promenade carpark yesterday on my way to the shops. There was nothing new for me in the park, unfortunately I was too early to see the Mandarin which finally put in a New Year appearance in the afternoon 😦 – but there was plenty of other interesting stuff. A small flock of Pink-feet flew north over the Great Wood which I could only hear (most have already departed), a small group of Crossbill were quietly feeding in Larch at the edge of The Heath, the male Pochard remains on the lake and Snipe numbers were still up at the dozen mark on the water-meadows, three different squealing Water Rail, a couple of Marsh Tit (NENBC survey species) and several Siskin, completed the highlights.
I took a walk up to Felbrigg Park yesterday in the hope of finding a new species, to put my current ‘Lockdown 2 List’ on a par with my original ‘Lockdown List’. Success came in the form of a Pochard, which has been hanging around on the lake for the past few days – first male I’ve seen there since 5th April 2018. Species total – 90, all recorded on my daily walks around Cromer. Shortly after, a flock of 29 Lapwing flew east, quickly followed by three Red Kite heading west over Common Plantation. Species 91 & 92 respectively. Passing the Ice House on my return journey a Tawny Owl called twice – species 93! Back on the coast, the wintering flock of Oystercatcher on the Carnival Field is up to 7 and, on the groyne below No.1, the Turnstone numbers have increased to eight. The Peregrine pair have obviously been stimulated by the recent warm weather and have started displaying. Spring is on it’s way!
‘A Penguin on a Norfolk beach’ – was the EDP headline in July 2006. The article went on to say:
It might be a common sight in frozen Antarctica but it was the last thing Jean Edwards expected to see on one of the hottest days of the year on California beach… this chap came up to me and said, ‘excuse me, if you carry on along the beach you will be in for a shock’. “I wondered what he meant until he said there was a penguin on the beach”…. Mrs Edwards remains convinced (her photo) shows a penguin… After inspecting the picture he (local zoo keeper) said the image was not clear but admitted it did look like a penguin. However, he warned about the possibility of it being a prank….(!) Norfolk Mastermind contestant Hadrian Jeffs, from Long Stratton, who chose penguins as his specialist subject … thought that it would most likely turn out to be a guillemot. He said: “They are not very common in East Anglia and are more typical of north-east Scotland. But there have been a lot of storms up there, and it is possible the bird has got confused and lost, especially in the heat.”.
Yesterdays ‘penguin’ was definitely a Guillemot, and although not quite on the beach, it did come pretty close. It was being chaperoned by a Great Black-backed Gull, which was sticking very close to it, as they slowly drifted west in front of the beach huts. I quickly realised that the GBB’s interests were not entirely platonic! On several occasions it made an attempt to jump on it, but the Guillemot repeatedly dived to avoid being drowned and eventually the gull gave up.
There was another ‘penguin’ alert at Trimmingham in 2018, in the North Norfolk News. So with global warming, who knows, the next report might be for real – possibly on April 1st.
Whilst gull numbers continue to decline on the coast, now that the weather has changed – warm southerlies have set in – there are still fruits of the sea to find. Yesterday, courtesy of Andy H – or to be more precise, his bread rolls! – I managed to get good views of two ringed Black-headed Gulls in the roost along the Western Promenade. The first, an adult bird wearing a white plastic ring, is from Belgium. The second, a young bird with a plain metal ring, is Finnish. Seeing ringed birds well enough to read the detail is tricky enough so hats off to Jane C who managed to identify a Norwegian Rock Pipit recently at Sheringham! You’ve got to admire the dedicated local birders whose patience is rewarded by gaining such valuable bird migration data. Thank you one and all!
I’ve checked the local shore-line over the past couple of days for anything interesting. The decline in gull numbers has continued through the week but I did manage to find my first Lesser Black-backed of the year on Wednesday, amongst the dwindling flock. Yesterday I was scanning the roosting flock of Black-headed Gulls along the Western Promenade when I came across a Greylag Goose – surprisingly well camouflaged amongst the rocks. Not something I was expecting to see.
In the wake of Sunday’s gull fest, yesterday I decided to walk the foreshore from the West Promenade to the end of the golf course. Most of the storm-blown wrack had been taken back by the tide and the gull flock was down to about a quarter of its previous size. Nevertheless there were still things of interest about. I’d just reached the flint ‘reef’ went I noticed two grey waders feeding on dead shellfish amongst the rocks. The Knot allowed a reasonably close approach. Further along the shoreline there was a lone Grey Plover. The only gulls of any note that I could find were two adult Mediterranean Gulls, easily separated by their differing stages of head moult. The colour-ringed bird, which I’m told by Andy H originates from Oslo, was not in evidence. Following on from my previous theme of Woodcock invasion, a quick check of the flotsam by the pier produced the remains of five dead birds. How many more must have perished along our coast as a result of Storm Darcy I wonder?
The cold temperatures and strong winds have brought tons of marine debris onto our shores in recent days – and along with it a feeding frenzy of gulls. On a quick look yesterday afternoon, on my way to the shops, I counted seven species. There has been an Iceland Gull hanging around, but I missed it. There were a couple of birds wearing rings of one sort or another but, in the continuous ‘Mexican wave’ of moving birds, it was impossible to get details – except for one obliging adult Mediterranean Gull.
It was my WeBS count this morning. Counts should only take place under current covid restrictions, but as I can walk to my survey site at Felbrigg, that’s still OK. A biting cold wind and treacherous conditions under-foot meant that the whole process took a three and a half hour round trip. Actually, as most of the landscape is still frozen, numbers are significantly down – with most species being distributed along the length of the Scarrow Beck. A single male Shoveler and a lone Jack Snipe were the high-lights, but a dozen Snipe and Woodcock made for a good supporting cast.
Although the main roads are clear now we still have a carpet of thick frozen snow in our Cromer suburbs. I’d just got back from the shops yesterday morning when I disturbed a Redwing on the front lawn. During the afternoon – whilst on a Norfolk MOTUS Steering Group* zoom meeting call – I was momentarily distracted by a Woodcock, which flew over Cliff Avenue and disappeared into the gardens of Ashdown Court – garden ticks 53 & 54 respectively. The other two members on the call had both had close encounters with Woodcock that day – there’s a lot of them around right now!
*This informal NENBC-led group has come together to try to get some momentum behind installing a number of MOTUS wildlife migration receivers along the North Norfolk coast. If you are interested in the project do please get in touch.