As I awoke on 16th July and opened the curtains, I was excited to see a flooded Mill Field . This was the first time I’d seen the patch in this state, and I soon discovered that Fishermen’s Field was also flooded. The Wensum had burst its banks, and this proved to be productive from a patching point of view for the ensuing few days.
With the flooding came the birds. During those few days I watched the two flooded fields pretty intensely, as this was where all the action was. Many of the resident birds congregated here, including the Grey Herons, Mallards, Mute Swans and Common Terns (three of the latter were at Fishermen’s Field on 18th), thus leaving the rest of the patch comparatively quiet. Black-headed Gulls had arrived in the biggest numbers. Numbers peaked on the first day of the floods (16th), concerning 120+ birds all together, with a particularly large congregation on Fishermen’s Field. By 17th numbers had dropped to around 60, which in itself smashes all previous record totals. It was wonderful to see them around in such numbers.
Large congregations of hirundines also formed, mostly consisting of Swifts. On 16th at least 80 Swifts were hawking virtually everywhere throughout the patch. In tow were at least 15 Swallows and 5 House Martins. This had decreased by 18th though, with no more than 20 about (again still many more than usual). With the density of Swifts and Black-headed Gulls, the patch felt alive with birds, more than it had ever done before, and I indulged in that. Not only that, but these two species acted as ‘carriers’ to an array of other locally interesting birds.
I was hoping for a few waders to become attracted to the floods on Mill Field, as I’d had Greenshank here when the field had been very slightly flooded in May. It wasn’t as productive as I’d expected it to be, but did still hold a common wader or two. In the morning on 16th an Oystercatcher was feeding amongst the Black-headed Gulls on Mill Field, only my second record after a couple of Fishermen’s Field in May. This was trumped by my first Lapwing that evening where the Oystercatcher had been, which I enjoyed watching for a while. Another Lawping was also present here on 18th.
One of the things I love about patch birding is how the very common can bring you great joy when they are locally uncommon, and as all waders are basically uncommon at Costessey House Private Estate I reveled in the two Lapwings and the Oystercatcher. The same applies to geese and ducks. With this in mind, imagine my excitement when I latched onto these on 16th:
I have had 4 species of wader on the patch now, but Greylag Goose was only my second goose species on the patch after the previously resident Egyptian Geese. Greylag Geese had never given me the same buzz as they did at the moment. When I see my second duck species (Mallard is the only one so far) on the patch I’m sure I’ll be equally exhilarated. This group remained until 18th, and by then had increased to 10 birds. At least 6 Mallards accompanied the Greylags over those few days, presumably including ‘fresh in’ and resident birds.
Birds on the floods aside, more owl action included the usual Barn every day and a Tawny calling on 18th. To my delight, I had the Little Owl every night around the paddocks at dusk after first seeing it on 14th. On 17th I was further enthused as it was joined by a second bird. I spent a long time that night watching the two of them as they followed each other about, getting some blurry record shots. What gave me the most joy was the discovery that they were using the barn by the house! I originally thought that only one was in the area and roosting away from the patch, so it was fantastic to discover that there were actually two birds using the barn. The next day I asked the neighbour how long they’d been there, and he told me that they weren’t there before I arrived, so no breeding unfortunately; a hope for the future I suppose, I’ll look forward to seeing if there still there when I’m next down.
On 18th there was an arrival of 25 Lesser Black Backed Gulls on Mill Field; a record tally for this daily patch species. That evening it was chucking it with rain, so it took iron will to give these birds a look under the shelter of a tree as the exterior of the scope and myself got absolutely soaked. I worked the group methodically, noting a few 3cy individuals with their well developed bills and worn brown wing coverts, as well as couple of 2cys. As the rain became torrential, I alighted on a roosting gull at the end the group and was immediately interested. Face on the bird was yellow-legged, but the mantle and upperparts were a dark grey, intermediate between the black upperparts of the aforementioned species and the lighter grey of Herring Gull, the latter of which was also amongst the group in small numbers and provided a good comparison in this respect.
I knew I was on a YELLOW-LEGGED GULL. As I enjoy studying laros, I took the time to get a few shots of the bird, examine it further and take rough notes on my phone. The torrential rain at first made digiscoped images and viewing very difficult, but I kept on it as it stopped roosting and had a walk around. This was a classic YLG. The following were noted in addition to the outstanding abovementioned diagnostics:
- As it stopped roosting for the first time a red orbital ring was apparent; on Herrings this is yellow.
- The mantle shade was paler than the upperparts, with a blueish tinge
- Bill was heavy and long with noticeable bulging at the gony’s and a well marked gony’s spot
- Head was flattish and square in profile
- From a side view of the bird sitting, a fullish chest contrasted with a long primary projection. Surrounding Herrings did not show this defined contrast, primary projection was comparatively shorter.
- Primaries were largely black, but with a full white tip to P10. P5 band apparent whilst bird was washing.
This Yellow-legged Gull was largely doing its own thing and didn’t spend much time with the Lesser Black Backeds. It wandered off on its own accord and enjoyed a 15 minute session of getting dry as the sun came out again. I managed to get the following pics, some taken whilst the heavens were still open:
After half an hour it took flight on its own, not to return. I left Mill Field delighted; more than anything I was elated that this inland patch of mine had lived up to its potential of producing actual scarcities/rarities and produced its first scarcer species. And a fitting species to fulfil it, what with July being prime time for seeing post breeding YLGs that have dispersed from the Med. To round things off shortly after the YLG, a Kingfisher was flushed oddly enough from a bush along Mill Lane and bolted up the river along Fishermen’s Trail.
This was the perfect end to an immensely enjoyable and eventful week’s patching. Along with other things such as the Little Owls using the barn, the Barn Owls, the Black-headed Gull and Swift numbers, it’s fair to say this was the best patching that Costessey House Private Estate had ever offered. I now have great confidence that its a properly good place for birds and wildlife.
Thanks for reading,
Hi Joseph, great find! I live in Costessey as well and there are a few of us in the village who regularly birdwatch in the wensum valley, usually east from Drayton Meadows down to Hellesdon Mill. There is an email group run by the Wensum Valley Birdwatching Society wvbs.co.uk where local sightings are often posted. Would be interesting to hear if your little owl is still around as we’ve had no sightings since the spring.
Thanks very much for all your input, especially for alerting me about the email group. I have contacted WVBS about this and submitting the Yellow-legged Gull and other records. Glad to hear there are some dedicated locals such as yourself working the area near where I am based, I would be very interested to hear about anything you come across.
Providing I get on to the email group, I will alert you if the Little Owls are still around, and of course all future sightings from Costessey House Private Estate will be on this blog.
Many thanks and best wishes,