This weekend just gone I was down in Norfolk again, visiting family from Friday till Monday morning. In other words this was a very brief stay in between exams, but of course meant some intense patching. Costessey House Private Estate is continuing to produce birds and to reveal its potential, scoring 13 patch ticks over the weekend and the patch list now standing at 70 species. The following account should give you an idea of my weekend there…
Friday 4th May: I arrived in Norwich mid afternoon and had started my first patch check by early evening, keen as I was to see what had come in since my last visit. One such arrival was immediately apparent as I started my look round, 2 Common Terns fishing along the Wensum at Mill Field. I was already aware of their presence along the Wensum (thank you John Eady) but it was nonetheless a joy to see them for the first time on the patch. These birds are resident on the patch and have quickly become a favourite regular of mine; such an elegant species and its wonderful to have them gracing the river during the spring. As I was watching the Common Terns I was alerted to a rasping call overhead and connected with 2 Mistle Thrushes heading west over the cottage, another patch tick.
What followed was very exciting for me in patch terms. I was scanning Mill Meadow when I heard an instantly recognisable trysyllabic wader call. I abandoned my scan, looking to the air and connecting with 3 GREENSHANKS. During a day on the coast at this time of year these birds wouldn’t excite me too much, but I felt myself light up inside when these beauties flew over. Result, passage waders at the patch! Any wader species (excluding Snipe) is enough to excite me at Costessey House Private Estate due to the almost entire lack of decent wader habitat there, so this was a treat. The Greenshanks flew quickly over Drayton Woods in the direction of Drayton Meadows. Despite my best efforts to relocate them I wasn’t able to that evening.
I wandered round Fishermen’s Trail pretty happy with how things were going. 2 Swallows were hawking Fishermen’s Field, a Willow Warbler and some Chiffchaffs were singing, and pleasingly the Cetti’s Warbler – it was nice to confirm that it’s still there. I was expecting an Acro or two in the reeds at Fishermen’s Trail and was rewarded with my first singing Sedge Warbler on the patch; showing well on top of a reed and regularly doing some inch perfect impressions of the Swallow alarm call; such charismatic birds which have proved to be pretty common on the patch. Another was heard in the reeds at the top of Drayton Meadows. As I headed along Mill Lane towards Drayton Meadows I connected with my first Whitethroat, singing from deep within the hawthorn at the other side of Drayton Woods; another sang along Drayton Meadows. Also at this part of the lane 2 female Bullfinches were nice and the local male Kestrel shot out of some cover.
As I entered Drayton Meadows a ghostly white form patrolling the reeds at the back of the meadows revealed itself to be the Barn Owl, the second time I have seen it on the patch and lovely to see again; I got some better views than before down to about 50ft. A check of Hidden Pool produced nothing, but the birches round about it held my first smart Great Spotted Woodpecker on the patch. At least 6 Reed Buntings were present, an increase in the usual numbers, as were 5 Mallards (x4 drakes and a female) . 3 Common Terns hunted the Wensum – I managed this short video of two of them flying around my head – and 3 Lesser Blacked Backed Gulls were loafing around. More notable though was a flock of 55+ Herring Gulls flying south over Mill Meadow on the way back going to roost; the most I’ve had of any gull species on the patch. Things ended nicely that evening with 2 Swifts being a patch first over the cottage.
It had been a lovely first day back on the patch, with the 3 Greenshanks the undoubted highlight. However I did note that only the 2 adult Mute Swans remained out of the swan family; all the juveniles had gone. This was the case for the entirety of my stay, so I presume last year’s young have now moved on. Great news is that this year’s are on the way – I discovered picutred nest in an enclosed area of water along Fishermen’s Trail where the female was incubating the eggs. Not such great news was the apparent absence of the 2 Egyptian Geese which I didn’t see during my stay; hopefully they have not moved on. Also of interest was that there were no Meadow Pipits on Drayton Meadows at all, perhaps because of the very boggy and wet conditions throughout my stay.
Saturday 5th May: I managed three checks in a day on Saturday; the morning being particularly good. Singing warblers predictably had increased in numbers from last night when less were singing. 6 Sedge Warblers were heard: 2 along Fishermen’s Trail, one at the area of reeds at the start of Drayton Meadows and 3 in the reeds at the back of Drayton Meadows. 4 Whitethroats were widely distributed, as were 6+ Chiffchaffs and 4 Blackcaps, whilst a Willow Warbler sang again along Fishermen’s Trail. I also managed a decent glimpse of the Cetti’s Warbler here, only the second time I’ve seen it. However, the warbler highlight of the day (and general highlight of the day) was seen in the scrub at the start of Drayton Meadows. The Chaffinch-esque song – although not varying in pitch like in the descending song from said species – of a LESSER WHITETHROAT got me excited; not an expected species on the patch by any means. It was being a typically skulky bugger and tantalized me whilst it constantly sang; I had to wait around half an hour before it kindly presented itself on a tree branch for a few minutes. A great bird for the patch and a sign that Costessey House Private Estate has the ability to produce some nice birds. It represented the 7th species of warbler on the patch that day – nice. Below is a video of the Lesser Whitethroat singing, but not showing of course! Apologies for the naff sound quality; you can only hear it once…
There was quite a bit going aside from warblers that morning. 2 Oystercatchers over Fishermen’s Field were noteworthy, just my third species of wader on the patch. At least 6 Swallows were hawking Drayton Meadows, as were 4 House Martins, a patch tick and almost completing the hirundine set save Sand Martin. The Barn Owl was seen very briefly and the female Sparrowhawk was around, whilst 2 Skylarks sang over the meadows. A Stock Dove was nice to see in Fishermen’s Field briefly on the way back. A walk with family along Marriot’s Way that afternoon produced my first Yellowhammer at the patch, a Red-legged Partridge and another patch tick in the form of a Collared Dove which flew over Marriot’s Way and Drayton Meadows. That evening I found a way to view Mill Field from a different perspective from normal, and this revealed a Greenshank which fed around in the boggy areas of the field (it had flooded shortly before I came down) – lovely to see one on the deck and likely a seperate bird from the three seen the day before. Apart from that the evening produced much the same as the morning with the exception of the Barn Owl and previous patch ticks.
Sunday 6th May: Starting from my new view of Mill Field, the Greenshank was still feeding that morning. 8 Swallows were hawking over Fishermen’s Field whilst the standard selection of warblers remained in similar numbers. The Lesser Whitethroat was heard both ‘tacking’ and singing which was nice to confirm. It was as you were for species selection otherwise during the morning and evening check. However 2 Stock Doves were seen on Mill Meadow, whilst 4 Common Terns hunted the Wensum and another Swift flew over the cottage. A special way to end my patching weekend was the Barn Owl hunting the entirety of Drayton Meadows in the evening; it even hunted Mill Meadow later on. Views were had down to 3oft at most points, and at one point it flew right past me with a vole in its talons. Its approachability allowed for some improved digibinned film from last time, as seen in the compilation below.
Another fantastic time at Costessey House Private Estate once again has proven to me that it is capable of producing a diverse range of species considering its inland location, and some quite decent ones thrown in for good measure. I won’t be returning for over a month, but will be looking forward to going back very much. Tune in to read more about my patch ramblings when I’m next down.
Thanks for reading,