When I come down to Norfolk there is nothing I look forward to more than working the patch birding wise, and I was there to greet it on 13th July. The weather had been miserable that day, but in the evening I took advantage of a brighter interlude and did my first round of the patch since early May. A few surprises were in stock.
One such surprise was the change in the patch’s overall ‘look’ and accessibility. Mill Meadow was now a proper meadow, coated by a lustrous sheen of colourful flora. Sticking their heads above the flora were the two chaps pictured below; a pair of Muntjac Deers. A surprising patch first, adding to a respectable range of mammals and other widlife seen on the patch over the last year; also new was a Common Frog the previous night. The buck was within a few feet of the gate, feeding contently until it noticed me. Inert with fear, it stared at me without cease until I left he and his mate in peace. Beautiful creatures, and lovely to see at such close quarters. I didn’t want to frighten them, so got a pic and quickly moved on.
I continued to walk along the first stretch of Mill Lane, noticing that the local Whitethroats had bred, with two juveniles accompanying the adult pair in the hedges. The other commoner warblers (Sedgie, Chiffchaff, Blackcap) were around in good numbers as usual. However, the Cetti’s Warbler was conspicuous by its absence. It didn’t sing once along Fishermen’s Trail during my stay, but may well have been around. I wasn’t able to have a good look for it as Fishermen’s Trail was largely inaccessible, the high river levels making it too boggy to pass through beyond the first straight. Fishermen’s Trail wasn’t the only inaccessible part of the patch; as I approached the path towards Drayton Meadows I was welcomed by this:
It’s clear that it wasn’t really possible to walk alongside the Wensum through Drayton Meadows, so instead I resorted to walking along the now overgrown end of Mill Lane and scan the meadows from the gate where Mill Lane peters out. This quite drastic change from its previous low lying grass-scape to a dense, meadow expanse had its advantages for the local birds. The Reed Buntings were doing very well. At least 4 pairs were approximated to be on these meadows alone, the males singing incessantly.
I took a gamble on 13th and walked a little away through the vegetation along where the path usually is to view the Wensum. This was worth the hassle, as I quickly stumbled across a female Pheasant with four chicks, which I flushed further along into the meadow. A little further up the Wensum it was great one to come across the resident female Mallard with a fresh brood of 10 ducklings. Right beside them were the resident Mute Swan pair, and I was delighted to see that they were were fostering two cygnets. I’d noticed the female incubating eggs in May, so it gave me much pleasure to see they had been successful. Last year 3 young were raised (which have now left), so the pair weren’t so successful this year, but nonetheless it was lovely to see them guiding their two endearing cygnets along the river. Within a few minutes I’d witnessed the breeding successes of three common patch birds, and I spent a while on the meadows indulging in the pleasure of this.
Whenever I check Drayton Meadows nowadays the Barn Owl crops up, my most treasured resident patch bird. On 13th it was distant along the back of Drayton Meadows as usual. On 14th I was treated to superb views of it hunting Mill Meadow, and on arriving at Drayton Meadows that evening a pair were hunting together, a first for me. I suspected a pair had a nest nearby and was very glad that my suspicions had been confirmed. I didn’t see them together again, but reveled in the experience whilst I could; a major highlight of my summer patching.
Barn Owls weren’t the only owls in the area. On 15th I had at least two Tawny Owls screeching around the cottage, whilst at dusk on 14th, I caught a glimpse of something small and dumpy landing in the paddocks out the back window of the living room whilst watching TV. I scoured the paddocks and alighted on a LITTLE OWL. This was a good moment as I’d always fancied the paddocks for Little Owl; now I had the genuine article within 30ft of the cottage window. It was too dark to see it well or get any photos, but I watched it keenly for a while as it did a constant circuit of the paddocks, landing on various posts, the large oak at the back and even on the closest patch of grass, constantly alert and never keeping still for more than a minute. Superb bird and a welcome patch first. Little did I know that further Little Owl surprises were in store later on, but I’ll leave that till next time…
There were other birds of note around during the first two days. A Cormorant south over Drayton Meadows was interesting on 14th; only my second record of this species after one also over Drayton Meadows in January. A Nuthatch in the trees around the cottage was a welcome wake up call and a patch first also on 14th, andI was glad to see that the Common Terns were still hunting the Wensum. A Great-spotted Woodpecker was at Drayton Meadows on 14th, a Red-legged Partridge at Fishermen’s Field on 13th and Green Woodpeckers with young were daily, such as these two, which spent half an hour feeding on our front lawn on 13th.
It had been a very rewarding start to my July patching. Over the ensuing days things were due to hot up further; an account of that will follow soon.
Thanks for reading,
Congratulations on the owls, great to have all three on your patch and some nice photos too. Your damselfly is a male Banded Demoiselle.
Thanks James, particularly for the damselfly ID. I’m a complete novice with regards to damselflies, dragonflys, moths etc so its much appreciated. Its lovely to have all three owls on the patch; hopefully Little Owl will still be about when I’m down again in a couple of weeks.
Loved reading your updates on your Costessey patch, and I’m impressed you saw a pair of barn owls, one more than I’ve come across here. The YLG was a great find (and your report very instructive on ID) but I really think the best bird you’ve seen is the nuthatch; in my experience they’re a Norfolk rarity, much more notable here than say bitterns, barnies or bearded tits. Norfolk is wonderful, but short on woods (especially for someone from Surrey) and consequently woodland species – I’ve yet to see a lesser spotted woodie in the County (but then again I am a rubbish birder!) Keep up the great reports!
Nice to hear from you again. I am glad you’ve enjoyed my reports recently and that you found the YLG report instructive. It’s interesting you mention the status of Nuthatch in Norfolk. I can see where you’re coming from; I’ve heard they’re tricky in parts of East Norfolk and I’m yet to have seen them on the north coast. I have had them at different sites around Thetford Forest though, so maybe the Norfolk population has its stronghold there. There was one at the patch again when I was down this weekend; always nice to see.
I’m yet to see Lesser Pecker in the county too (and full stop!). They are a rare breeding species in Norfolk and nationwide of course, so I guess the reason neither of us have seen them is due to that rather than ability 🙂 .