Peregrine promise

Female Peregrine Falcon visiting the box on Cromer church recently (photo courtesy of Chris Skipper)

Hot on the heels of recent Cromer Peregrine Project preparations for this years breeding season I received this photo from Chris, who installed our superb CCTV monitoring system. It’s a shot of the female (Falcon) visiting the box for the first time since we finished our essential winter maintenance work. A very encouraging sign – fingers crossed! We hope to make the system ‘live’ for when the eggs are laid in a couple of months time. In readiness for that event, here’s a very useful chart which helps distinguish between the adult birds – also from Chris.

Nothing to see here

Black-headed Gull on Cromer beach – super-common of course but not bad looking really

I’ve only been out a couple of times this week – combination of bad weather and increased isolation from the steeply rising incidence of covid in North Norfolk. An afternoon circuit of Stone Hill the other day produce virtually no birds in the high winds. A walk into Felbrigg yesterday was slightly more productive, with highlights including: male Stonechat on the water-meadows – found whilst watching a couple of nice male Wigeon, a small flock of Crossbill over – heading for Common Plantation, two Woodcock flew from a damp ditch at the edge of the wood, a lone Coot was back on the lake and a mixed flock of Fieldfare & Redwing in the plantation south of the Hall. A couple of Zoom meetings – preparing for the oncoming Peregrine breeding season and reviewing NENBC records pretty much sums up the rest of my wildlife week! Oh, I did say I’d keep you posted on the new bird-feeding station opposite. Well of course I was wrong – I’d reckoned without the scavenging skills of the local Jackdaw flock. They were first to discover it, followed by House Sparrow. Blue & Long-tailed Tit and Blackbird have all been ‘near-misses’ so far. I did see the neighbourhood Sparrowhawk streak through the other day, so may be they are just being sensibly cautious.

Record shot of Coot – one of just a couple of additions to my Lock-down 2 list this week

Duck count day in Felbrigg

A year tick – Chiffchaff bathing in a farm puddle near Stone Hill

It’s amazing how a long walk in the sunshine can lift your spirits! My daily exercise saw me heading off in the direction of Felbrigg to do my monthly duck count. The Grey Wagtail was on its customary muck-heap opposite the entrance to the park. Once inside the gates a couple of Treecreeper were additions to my Lock-down 2 List, as were the Fieldfare on the sheep paddocks. The Little Owl, sunning itself in the dead Oak below the rough grazing, was the final distraction before getting down to the count. No wildfowl surprises, except perhaps in the negative – the small number of wintering Gadwall – only 5 this morning – is a real disappointment this winter, when in recent years we’ve had peaks at around eighty. Still there were six Common Snipe reported on the water meadow – I could only find three – and the Water Rail was scurrying around by the viewing screen. Other highlights of the morning included: male Stonechat on the water meadows, a flock of 20 Siskin and a couple of Woodcock. The Crossbill flock – around 50 – performed well in Common Plantation, whilst across the other side of the park, I found another group of 15 on The Heath. The highlight of the return leg, via Stone Hill, was an obliging Chiffchaff, bathing in a farm puddle along Newstead’s Lane – a year tick!

15 Common Crossbill on The Heath at Felbrigg were additional to those in Common Plantation
Two of the six reported Snipe on the water meadows this morning – highlight of the WeBS count

Memories of Stone Hill and before

First Fulmar of the year, that and the Red-throated Diver were both additions to my Lock-down 2 list

I’ve been out less recently – retreating further into my covid shell I suppose – that and the miserable weather. I did manage a walk out to the east this morning – rediscovering the network of paths between Cromer and East Runton, around Stone Hill. Out to sea I could just make out the distinctive form of a flying Red-throated Diver and, along the cliff-tops, my first Fulmar of the year. At Runton Gap a female Bullfinch was calling repeatedly and then it all went quiet. On the return leg I caught myself thinking about the very first time I visited Stone Hill – more years ago than I care to remember – in pursuit of a wintering Serin. My first and only Norfolk Serin. I can’t actually remember my first British Serin – probably one at Star Point in Devon – found whilst looking for Cirl Bunting. My most unusual Serin record in this country was of a remarkable breeding pair as far north as the Yorkshire Dales, sometime in the mid-eighties. Another Yorkshire Serin played its part in November 2013, helping me over the 300 line in our Big Year. Despite their bright colouration, unless they are singing, an easily over-looked species. Now that’s a Spring target to keep me going through these dark days.

Serin at Flamborough in November 2013 – helping me reach my 300 in a year target

Mediterranean – the gull, not the weather!

Grab shot of an adult winter Mediterranean Gull – the only recent addition to my Lock-down 2 list

Daily exercise came in the form of a short cycle ride yesterday, around the adjacent parishes of Northrepps & Southrepps. It was bright and sunny early on but quickly turning to sleet, with a brisk south-westerly wind. There were few birding distractions on route but a large roost of gulls attracted my attention. Having scanned the bulk of them – mostly Black-headed – I did manage to pick-out a lone adult winter Mediterranean, moments before it took to the air and headed for the coast.

Feed the birds

New avian gourmet ‘restaurant’ opens in Cromer!

With the kind permission of the owners, I spent yesterday morning creating a new feeding station in the carpark of the highly regarded Virginia Court – No.1 hotel in Cromer. With this continuing cold spell our garden birds need all the help they can get, so this additional source of food, in an ideal location, should prove popular. It’s no coincidence of course that this new ‘facility’ is readily overlooked from the flat, so I’m anticipating whiling away many happy ‘Stay at Home’ hours watching the avian comings and goings. First partaker? – my money is on Blue Tit – I’ll let you know.

Felbrigg fest

A rare sighting for me nowadays – Barn Owl in Felbrigg. A Lock-down 2 and NENBC year tick

Felbrigg has been having a run of decent birds lately. I’d arranged to meet Gresham Phil yesterday morning to have a walk around the park – fully covid compliant & socially distanced. Nowadays this of courses involves me setting off a bit earlier than it used to so, rather than walking in the dark as I had done on New Years Day, we aimed for a 9.00 rendezvous. First birding interest inside the park was a small flock of Redwing, feeding in the Beech trees along the main drive. I was just heading down the track between Felbrigg village and the church when, from behind me, a Barn Owl flew past at reasonably close range. It carried on until it met the track to the church, when it turned around, flew back passed me and up the field edge towards the village – perching briefly on fence posts opposite the entrance to Hall Farm as it did so. A welcome Lock-down 2 and NENBC year tick. We were just heading back through the rough grazing below the dam when we saw local birders Tim & Dawn looking intently at something on the lake. A quick telephone call confirmed that it was a female Goosander which had just flown in and landed on the ice. We headed to the dam where we got reasonable but brief views before the bird disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.

Record shot of an all-to-brief visit by a female Goosander to the iced-up lake at Felbrigg

Final stop was at the stand of Western Hemlock in Common Plantation to look for the flock of Crossbill, which I’d missed on the NYBC. We counted about 35 in the first wave, then a further ten and six arrived. Shortly after, on our way to the Hall, a further 15 were in the tall trees at the edge of the water meadows – these could have been additional to the original flock. On my way home I came across a flock of 65 Chaffinch in the shelter-belt opposite the main entrance – but alas no Brambling – and a nice obliging Grey Wagtail on a near-by muck heap. My Lock-down 2 list has moved on to a not too shabby 64.

Just some of the flock of 50 (possibly 65) Common Crossbill in Felbrigg Park

Coast and country

Marsh Tit – one of two birds seen yesterday in near-by woodland. An NENBC target species in 2021

On Friday I swapped my daily walk for a short bike-ride around the adjacent parishes. Having not been on my bike for over a year, that was quite far enough for me for one day! I didn’t see too much wildlife on route but when I stopped to watch a gull flock following the plough, between Northrepps and Cross Street, I was surprised to find a male Stonechat feeding on the upturned sods. Not at all the type of habitat I’d associate with this species.

Coast path congestion – with everyone taking advantage of the winter sunshine for their daily exercise

Yesterday morning I had to attend to a pressing conservation job but did manage to get a walk in during the afternoon. I’m guessing it was the winter sun which brought everyone out but the coastal path was busy and I passed nearly fifty people between North Lodge Park and the lighthouse. I eventually diverted inland, to get away from the crowds, but not before I’d taken the opportunity to scan the sea from the cliffs, whilst letting a group of people pass. The only birds, on an otherwise empty sea, were a lone adult Gannet heading west and a grebe sp. just off-shore, at the edge of the sand shelf. I thought at first it was likely to be a Great Crested but looking through my binoculars, the size & structure, contrasting black & white plumage and bright cheek-patch suggested otherwise. The clean rear end and bill shape, for me, ruling out Black-necked – the identification confirmed as Slavonian Grebe. This was the first I’ve seen off the coast since I started watching this particular stretch. Once inland woodland species became the focus. Several calling Nuthatch and a Jay were additions to the ‘Lock-down 2’ list, as were the two calling Marsh Tit along the edge of Cottage Wood. Marsh Tit has been chosen as one of three NENBC ‘target species’ for 2021 – due to its recent national decline. It’ll be interesting to see how many get reported, away from traditional NENBC sites, once the current restrictions are eased.

More pied adventures

Oystercatcher – one of a pair – on Cromer carnival field yesterday

Additions to my Local-down 2 list aren’t exactly flooding in but, given the current covid restrictions and the time of year, that’s not perhaps surprising. I did mange to add a few on my daily exercise yesterday – Wren, Buzzard, Moorhen and Greenfinch. All encountered whilst exploring the footpath network to the west of Cromer. On my way home I came across a couple of Oystercatcher – not only a Lock-down 2 addition but a new bird for 2021 – an embarrassing omission from my NYBC list! Seeing these black & white birds in this location put me in mind of the last interesting ‘pied’ species I saw there a couple of years ago… that Pied Crow. The following abridged article from Birdguides covers the story….

Pied Crow: wild or escape?

After one was seen heading south through the migration hot-spots of Spurn, East Yorks, and Gibraltar Point, Lincs, on 13 June 2018, it was subsequently relocated in the vicinity of the racecourse at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, from 15-17th before reappearing around a Cromer chip shop on 19th. After doing a bunk on 23rd, it seemed sensible to assume that that was it for further sightings but, remarkably, it was relocated over 300 km away at Clevedon, Somerset, just three days later, where it inhabited the rooftops above the local Greggs for eight days.

The Pied Crow showed very well at Cromer, Norfolk, for several days in June, where it enjoyed eating discarded chips (Trevor Williams).

It subsequently popped up at a campsite near St Justinian, Pembs, from 3-8 July – a further westward movement of 180 km. Its tour of Britain wasn’t complete there, though: extraordinarily it reappeared back in East Yorkshire on 24 July, when it was seen in Flamborough village, roughly 420 km from its last location. Seemingly now contented, it has subsequently remained there until at least mid-December, favouring the rooftops around Beech Avenue.

A chronological path of the Pied Crow‘s movements from June-December 2018 ( data).

Breeding as far north as Mauritania, Niger and Sudan, Pied Crow has a chequered and controversial history within the Western Palearctic. A number of Moroccan, Algerian, Libyan and Egyptian records are seen as genuine, as are a pair seen on the Italian island of Lampedusa on 20 March 2018. These show a considerable northward movement of around 1,600 km from the species’ usual range. Despite this, all seven Iberian records have been controversially assumed to either be escapes or ship-assisted – including birds seen crossing the Strait of Gibraltar. The species has even bred in the region, with an active nest found in Western Sahara in 2010, and a long-staying individual in A Coruña, Spain, paired with a Carrion Crow in 2006-07.

 Written by: Sam Viles

Post Script: From memory it finally ended up somewhere on the Kent coast

Pied visitor

partial albino Blackbird – visiting my garden feeders

By the end of the second day of the recent covid national lock-down I’d managed to nudge my new bird list up by ten more species – achieving a total of 31! Perhaps the most interesting wildlife sighting of the day though was of the partial albino male Blackbird, which occasionally visits my garden feeders. He’s very shy so I had to make do with a photo taken through the double glazed lounge window. This particular individual has normal body colouration – but with pronounced white wing and tail flashes – which you only really see when it flies away!