I am in Norfolk until next Wednesday, and each day I’ve been checking my newly adopted patch once or twice a day – Costessey House Private Estate – . After the quality of birding this week, I have been taken in by this secluded patch of mine. Hopefully from reading about the following highlights you will be understand why…
Tuesday 3rd April: On Tuesday I covered the patch only in the morning. As I become more dedicated to birding the area, I feel an urgency to check the patch twice a day. This however had no effect on the quality of birding when immediately as I walked up the start of Mill Lane opposite Mill Field I heard the explosive call of a Cetti’s Warbler coming from a nearby bush. I halted and waited for it to call again. It did so, allowing me to pinpoint the bush it was in. In approaching the bush, it was flushed and I watched it dart at great speed into the small patch of reedbeds on the other side of the river just off Mill Field. This was a delightful start to the day, and Cetti’s Warbler was a species I wasn’t expecting to get on the patch with the lack of extensive reeds.
Once in the reeds, the Cetti’s seemed to be wending its way along them as I kept on hearing it at different places along Fishermen’s Trail. It wasn’t calling as loudly as most I’ve heard, maybe as its early spring. It was quiet along the Fishermen’s Trail until I reached the end of it towards the bridge where a cracking Little Egret was feeding. I was thrilled, what with having connected with two decent and unexpected new patch birds within the space of 10 minutes. On seeing me the Little Egret flew onto Fishermen’s Field where it sat for some 15 minutes. I took the opportunity to get a video, which can be seen below. Believe it or not, this is digibinned coverage; I was laying the bins on one of the fenceposts and filming through there as I didn’t have the scope on me.
I left the Egret to it. In the Drayton Woods part of Mill Lane, I got good views of a singing male Blackcap. The rest of the patch check was quiet, with the 2 Grey Herons noted together on Drayton Meadows as well as three Skylarks and two pairs of Reed Buntings. At lunchtime I had a quick look round as far as the Fishermen’s Trail to see if the two highlights morning still around. The Cetti’s Warbler was still singing on Fishermen’s Trail, but the Little Egret was gone. A very pleasant surprise was a mammal patch tick in the form of a Fox creeping about Mill Meadow. Rather scruffy looking, the horses which it was beside were unfazed by its presence. It slinked into deeper cover after five minutes. A fantastic morning’s patching.
Wednesday 4th April: It was wet all day, but I managed to get out between showers. Despite the nasty conditions, my two visits proved to be productive. Early that morning the Egyptian Geese were showing very well on Mill Meadow, allowing me to get the following images. A female Blackcap was in the bushes and 4 Redwings shout out from the undergrowth along Mill Lane opposite Mill Meadow. At the top of Drayton Meadows I had seen very little and as it was raining. I was about to turn back, until I heard a light splash on the Wensum behind me. I turned, seeing nothing. Maybe I was imagining it. But then a brown head and slinking streamlined body appeared above the water; an OTTER. I lit up inside; this was a revelation to me. An Otter on the patch was a figment of my imagination that I thought would not become realised. But here was one, swimming along in front of me. This beautiful creature gave me tantalizing glimpses of its cat-like self as I followed it up the Wensum, only appearing above the water for a few seconds at a time before submerging again. I saw it maybe 5 times before I was painfully unable to follow it any longer. What an animal though, a superb thing to have seen here.I feel very privileged to have seen one here. Otters are quite scarce in Norfolk and not often seen, making this more special. Below is a picture of the area of the Wensum it was first seen in.
- I had another check at 6pm. The rain meant most of the regulars were taking shelter, so it seemed quiet as I progressed up Fishermen’s Trail. I was nearing the bridge when I came to a sudden halt on hearing an immediately recognisable mono-syllabic high-pitched piping call from up the river. I looked around anxiously for the KINGFISHER that was along it somewhere to appear. A flash of azure then bolted down the river in front of me. I watched the Kingfisher as it landed on a tree edge about 45ft away, where it gave extremely fleeting views before zooming down the river again and disappearing; all within the space of several seconds. What a superb bird. This was yet another species that was more of a vague hope rather than a species I was expecting to see, so it was delightful to see it. It became clear that the occurrence of the Kingfisher and Otter respectively were to do with the wet weather, which had resulted in the river level rising and thus making the resident fish more active.
I was happy to see nothing else now, but that wasn’t the end. I entered Drayton Meadows, where at great distance I could immediately see a ghostly white form endlessly patrolling the reeds at the top of the meadows. This was the BARN OWL I had been looking for since my arrival. My run of luck that day had become ridiculous. I walked towards the top of the meadows, hoping to get better views. In doing so 4 Mallards were flushed, likely concerning different birds from the resident pair. I managed to get within 50ft of the reeds and was treated to superb views of the Barn Owl as it elegantly hunted over the reeds for over half an hour. I can only describe the experience of watching it as the sun set on the secluded meadows as lastingly special. At one point it landed on a fence post about 35ft away where it stared me straight in the eyes as I watched it through the bins. I managed to get some digibinned footage of it hunting before my camera ran out of battery; see below. As I watched it, I was surprised by a group of 15 Common Gulls going to roost overhead, the largest number of this species I’ve ever seen here. And so an absolutely superb day ended.
Thursday 5th: An early morning check revealed the Cetti’s Warbler singing again from Fishermen’s Trail, where it has been heard every day since; it seems to be settled for the spring which is superb news. Some action was had at Drayton Meadows, where the resident Kestrel pair was seen together for the first time hunting over the woods and a male Sparrowhawk was flushed – the first time I have seen it. A female Bullfinch along Mill Lane at Drayton Woods was a nice reminder that winter visitors are still about. At least 3 singing Blackcaps were noted, and the usual 6 or so Chiffchaffs.
Friday 6th: My morning check was quiet. The Cetti’s Warbler was singing from its usual place, whilst the two Reed Bunting pairs were noted amongst the other regulars and 4 Skylarks + 4 Meadow Pipits were on Drayton Meadows. The highlight of the morning were 2 Snipe which flew from the reeds at the top of Drayton Meadows, my second record here and presumably a species attracted to the area in wetter conditions. A Great Black Backed Gull north over the meadows was a patch tick the evening, I flushed another Snipe from further down Drayton Meadows, perhaps a third individual. It was otherwise similarly quiet.
Saturday 7th: The 5 Mute Swan cygnets flying over Fishermen’s Field in the morning was a dramatic sight, whilst a singing Goldcrest was a patch first located in the Drayton Woods part of Mill Lane. The usual regulars remained, including the 2 Egyptian Geese which hadn’t been seen for a couple of days. 3 Lesser Black Backed Gulls were over Drayton Meadows, and the Cetti’s Warbler sang from Fishermen’s Trail again. A Buzzard soaring high over Mill Field was my third record of this species. In the evening, 4 Song Thrushes were noted and a Snipe was flushed from Fishermen’s Trail.
Sunday 8th: , Today was more productive than the previous few days. Only managing a check in the morning, a Red-legged Partridge flushed from Mill Meadow was a patch tick that it was only matter of time for me to connect with. The Cetti’s Warbler was still present, and as I walked across Fishermen’s Field I was delighted to see my first hirundine of the year and at the patch – a Swallow wending its way quickly eastwards. Shortly beforehand I had watched the female Sparrowhawk being mobbed by Jackdaws. On Drayton Meadows, at least 4 Lesser Black-Backed Gulls were around; they seem to be steadily on the increase. Aside from the regulars, the only other birds of note were 2 Long-tailed Tits at Mill Lane opposite Mill Meadow.
Wednesday was of course the highlight day this week, but I am now firmly in the routine of patching Costessey House Private Estate and I really am enjoying it. I’ve got a couple of more days patching to do which I’ll account over the next week; it’s going to be painful to leave on Wednesday! If anything, this week has proved that Costessey House Private Estate is a great little site that’s proving itself to have the potential to produce some decent birds and wildlife.
Thanks for reading,
I was really interested in your blog about Costessey Estate, having picked it up on Norfolk Bird Forum (which I have not registered for), as I live in Station Road Drayton and often go down Marriott’s Line towards Norwich. I have four kids (who sadly are not interested in birding) but occasionally get out and catch up with some of the birds in Norfolk (the most recent being the glossy ibises at Cantley Marshes last month).
With regards to your sighting of an otter, I think that is fantastic – though otters are allegedly now widespread in Norfolk, it is indeed rare to see them, and in 10 years in Norfolk I have only ever seen them twice, both times at Strumpshaw Fen (where I think they have bred). I know they have been seen on the Wensum downstream at Hellesdon Bridge and a dead pup has been picked up in Norwich, but to see one locally is still wonderful. Sightings in Norfolk are far from commonplace, and always noteworthy.
As for the birds, I think you’ve done really well. I occasionally pick up a barn owl in in the field by Drayton Woods in winter, and a litte egret sometimes fishes the river throughout the year, but I’ve not seen/heard a reed bunting (presumably as I do not have access to the estate). I have heard Cetti’s from the railway bridge, and grasshopper warblers pass through the ‘fisherman’s trail’ in late April – the best I ever had was a male that sang every night for three or four weeks one year (I heard it from my garden, though I never saw it!)
As for the other birds you might come across, I’ve only ever once seen treecreepers along the railwayline, and never nuthatches (they seem v scarce in norfolk). Once from the railwaybridge I saw a white heron, that I put down as an albino (not having my bins with me) though this year I’ve seen a great White Egret not too far away on the Yare at Marlingford Mill, so I wish I’d scrutinised the ‘albino heron’ a bit better! I’ve also once (in ten years!) seen a red kite drift across our garden, and rumour has it they may breed in the Marlingford area, so you might be lucky and catch up with one of those!
My favourite ‘Drayton bird’ though are the few common terns that hunt the Wensum every year, special birds indeed.
I’m also interested that you’ve seen a fox on the estate – I’ve once seen a fox by your ‘fishermans rail’, and in my experience (having moved up from South London where urban foxes are commonplace) foxes are rare in Norfolk – my 9 year old has never seen a fox (!!) and I’ve seen more bitterns in Norfolk than foxes – this years score is bitterns 2 (Strumpshaw & Titchwell) foxes 0. Crazy!
Thanks for the excellent postings, and good luck with the birding, I’d be most interested in any other sightings you have.
PS Good luck with the Greater Yellowlegs if it’s still there when you get back!
Thank you so much for your comment, it is great to hear from a birder that lives very locally and the information you have shared with me on the birds you’ve seen in this area is invaluable. I will continue to post regularly about the birds I see on Costessey House Private Estate when I’m down here; unfortunately I’m leaving in a couple of days time but I’ll be down for a weekend in early May and I am looking forward to immensely.
Regarding the birds I do see and could see in the area, I am particularly excited to hear that Common Terns hunt the Wensum around here and that Grasshopper Warblers are about at the end of April. It would be lovely to bump into both species when I am next down – here’s hoping. Its also nice to hear that Little Egrets are here every now and then although its not particularly surprising, its certainly good habitat for them and I have played with the idea of a Great White or Cattle passing through. Would have been great if that heron you had was a GWE, seems a realistic bet! I’ve been semi looking out for the Marlingford bird actually, tantalizing to think that it could be roaming about nearby…
I am hoping the Cetti’s currently here is joined by a second, thanks again for explaining that these birds spend the spring here every year. Also thanks for the tip off on Red Kites nearby, have been keeping an eye out for a flyover since I’ve been here. One thing that lacks here are a range of duck and wader species – I’ve only had Mallard and Snipe respectively. A couple of the fields flood round here though and that would surely attract more ducks and waders; looking forward to when that happens whilst I’m down.
I feel very priviliged to have seen Otter here and at such an early stage. Due to their status and elusive nature I doubt I’ll see one here for a long time to come. Thanks for the information on where they’ve been seen nearby, certainly reinforces the fact they are around in the area. As for the Fox, it is the first I’ve seen in the region. Perhaps they are just very elusive like Otters, it may well be that they are widespread but would be interesting to find out the Norfolk population of this species.
Thanks very much for your comments once again and I am touched that my postings on my ramblings here are of interest to you.
All the Best,
Joseph Nichols (aged 17)
Guess what? This evening at 8pm a fox skipped out in front of the car and crossed Costessey Lane to disappear in the reeds opposite your fisherman’s trail! Tomorrow no doubt there’ll be an otter 🙂
I’ve always found the area surprisingly poor for ducks and waders – only mallards and the occasional shelduck (no wigeon unfortunately), and just a handful of snipe and a few winter flocks of lapwing. Maybe I haven’t been trying hard enough!
Anyway the main reason I was posting was to let you know of a fantastic blog by Graham Etherington which is well worth checking out, especially his excellent East Norfolk Birding Map. He is one of the top British birders and regularly finds and reports many birds to RBA, the latest being yesterday’s hoopoe and serin at Waxham Sands holiday camp. I was fortunate to see the hoopoe and two red kites first thing this morning, and really recommend east Norfolk during migration time – less crowds than the North coast reserves, and always the chance of finding your own birds (seals and cranes often about also). Google search ‘Graham’s birding blog’ or http://birds-britishbirder.blogspot.co.uk/
Thanks for your reply, and good luck with your birding; apologies if you’re already an east Norfolk expert!
John Eady (aged 50 – that is too old!!)
Well done with the Fox, I had what would probably have been the same Fox sitting in the reeds just before the beginning of Drayton Meadows yesterday morning which when I last saw it was wending its way towards Fishermen’s Trail. That was my last check of the patch before heading back to Aberdeen. I also had a Kingfisher along the Fishermen’s Trail that morning. I’ll be back and will manage a couple of days patching on a brief weekend visit in the first week of May, looking forward to it and will of course blog it.
Thanks for the info on the ducks and waders you’ve had in the area. It would be nice to see a few more waders and ducks there, but I am not too surprised what with the lack of water and therefore muddy edges in the area for attracting waders. Fishermen’s Field and Mill Field do apparently flood though so hopefully that would bring in a few commoner ducks; wader wise I guess a few Lapwing, Curlew and perhaps a Ruff at the right time of year would be possible when the fields are flooding. I’m looking forward to what the future brings on the patch.
Thanks for the link to Graham’s blog; 2 top quality birds he’s found there and I’ll keep up with it. I pondered twitching the Hoopoe but decided to do Blakeney Point with a friend instead! I was at Winterton and Horsey a couple of days before the Hoopoe turned up at Waxham, if it had turned up that day I would have gone for it. East Norfolk is fantastic for birding; I haven’t birded it that much but have had Great Grey Shrike at Waxham before and watched the cranes come in to roost at Stubb’s Mill earlier this year. It’s nice and close to Norwich and I hope to do birding in the area a lot more in the future.