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,