I am now home after the weekend and early part of this week down in Norfolk for my birthday. This of course meant patching, and as it was my 18th birthday on Monday I was hoping the patch would produce a present or two. It did, once again producing unexpected and much enjoyed birds.
We’ll start with an update on the resident birds. The resident Mute Swan pair are continuing to raise their two young, which have developed considerably since I saw them a month ago or so, although one is slightly more well developed than the other. Over 3 months old now, they are approaching proper ‘cygnetdom’. They have grown much larger, gained the typical much duskier plumage and are gradually losing their ‘cuteness’. It will be interesting to see how they’re getting on when I’m back down in October.
Also of interest was the progress of the 2 juvenile Kestrels hatched from the resident pair this year, which are increasingly gaining independence after fledging quite recently, hunting seperately from their parents. The immature male below was hunting along Fishermen’s Trail on Tuesday; a well developed individual, only lacking in adult appearance facially. Yet another major positive was the information from the landlady that the Egyptian Geese are winter visitors, returning in Sept-Oct. I’d presumed that they’d been driven off the patch after their young had reportedly been eaten. I am glad that this was a misconception rather than a reality; I’m looking forward to seeing them again.
As well as the breeding birds, there’s the departures of summer visitors. Reed Bunting numbers had dropped considerably, sitting at a maxiumum of two along Drayton Meadows, and the few Common Terns that hunted the Wensum had gone. Almost all warblers have left the patch now, save a couple of Whitethroats and the usual 6 or so Chiffchaffs. I was however lucky enough to catch up with a local movement of a couple of Acros. As I walked along Mill Lane through the reed encompassed end of Mill Lane as it approaches Drayton Meadows on Sunday (26th), I connected with two Reed Warblers. I’d imagined seeing them in the reeds on the patch, so it was quite exciting to have that thought realised. I’m convinced these were passage birds. I’d have bumped into them if they had summered, and both of them had gone the following day.
The hirundines are hanging on, with the Swallows having bred in numbers. 20 were seen daily throughout the patch, with up to 10 House Martins accompanying them at points. Notably in amongst these on Monday (27th) was a Swift passing over the cottage. Other noteworthy but not unusual birds noted between Saturday and Tuesday were 2 Collared Doves along Fishermen’s Trail on Saturday (25th) – my second record of this species – 8 Mallards south over Mill Meadow on Monday, a Buzzard and the female Sparrowhawk south over Fishermen’s Field on Tuesday (28th) and a Great-spotted Woodpecker along Fishermen’s Trail throughout. More interesting on the arboreal Aves front was a Nuthatch in the trees around the cottage, seen on Monday and Saturday, my second record of this species on the patch, and a welcome patch tick was a Grey Wagtail by the sluice overlooking Mill Field on Saturday.
What of the owls? Well, the good news is that all three species are still around. I didn’t see the Barn Owls together this time, but the usual bird put on a great show as it hunted Drayton Meadows on Monday. The Tawny Owls were pretty vocal; I managed views of one along Drayton Woods at nightfall on Sunday, and their evocative screeching was heard most nights. As the spectral shrieks of the Tawnies sounded on Sunday night the Little Owls cackled to each other out the back of the cottage, adding to an already eerie cacophony of nocturnal noises. Frankly, I hadn’t expected them to still be there. It was more of a hope than an expectation, so I was delighted to clarify that the they were still using the barn. I definitely didn’t expect there to be not two but three birds present that night, each seen flying from the dead tree at the back of the paddocks into the oak. I am still puzzling over where the third bird has come from as there were only two before, but it certainly thrilled me. One put on a good show on Monday night, coming within 10ft of the cottage window. I managed to get the digibinned pic below. Fantastic birds and undoubtedly a patch highlight at the moment; it will be a sad moment when they leave.
I am glad to say that Sunday and (fittingly) my birthday were the most productive days on the patch. As well as the owls and the Reed Warblers on Sunday evening, I was thrilled by two GREEN SANDPIPERS flying over Fishermen’s Field; patch mega!! First picked up on call, my excitement was intense as I connected with these corking birds heading rapidly high south. The joy was short lived though as they were soon lost to view. My suspicion was that these birds were heading towards Costessey Pits, the nearest large area of water. These Green Sands constitute to the 4th species of wader on the patch and the second passage wader after the Greenshanks in May. Definitely one of the highlights of my patching.
My birthday was even better. No sooner had I made it to Mill Meadow that morning did a LITTLE EGRET flew east over the meadow. I excitedly bolted back down the lane in an attempt to to get it over the house. It obliged, flying right over the cottage and overhead towards Mill Field, though not landing. This was my second record after one in April. As I headed happily along Fishermen’s Trail, I was stopped in my tracks by a beautiful Kingfisher sitting inert on a branch within 15ft of me, eyes intently on the river. What ensued was the best views I’ve ever had of this species, as I watched at this range on the same branch for 10 minutes in great weather, occasionally diving in from the river and plucking out a small fish. I really regretted not having my camera on me at the moment; the pics would have shown you what a treat it was to see it at that range.
Those two birds were good enough presents for me, but there was more to come that evening. We were about to leave Drayton Meadows, having enjoyed great views of the Barn Owl, when a dark, sickle-like raptor surfaced from the woods nearby and proceeded to hawk for insects. The red undertail coverts were immediately obvious; it was a HOBBY. This was the ideal birthday treat; one of my favourite birds at the patch. After five minutes it was joined by another one. I reveled in these two adult Hobbies as they hawked in tandem with one another for half an hour, making occasionally dramatic swoops at insects and endlessly displaying their aerial prowess. I couldn’t have asked for much more patch wise on my birthday. The following day one was seen distantly in flight over Drayton Woods with a passing Buzzard. I hope this will not be the last I see of this species on passage at the patch.
Costessey House Private Estate once again had provided addictive patching. It’s kicked above its weight, as shown by the diverse array of good quality birds and wildife its produced since July and even the beginning of the year, both passage and resident. As I write from home in Aberdeen, I can feel its allure. Bring on October.
Thanks for reading,
Greensands over Drayton – respect! Great sighting.
Glad to hear of the hobbies – I’ve only ever managed singletons here, but they are great birds.
Cheers John; the Green Sands certainly had me excited. It seems that quite a few passage waders use the patch en route to elsewhere, what with the Greenshanks in May. Makes me hopeful that there’ll be a few other interesting waders passing through in the future.
Hobby is right up there amongst my favourite birds, so it was particularly great to see them. Glad to hear you’ve had them there before; the habitat is great for them so I’m sure they won’t be the last.
I’m assuming you may be down at Costessey over Christmas? Just thought I should tell you that this morning (Sat Dec 8th) I watched a fantastic otter fishing (and briefly coming onto the bankside) at the ‘hidden’ pool by Drayton meadows – not so hidden now the leaves have fallen. Watched the otter for 10 minutes (11.20 – 11.30am) as it fished the pool, snorting and making soft splashes as it dived repeatedly. It moved all around the pool and came up 6 feet from me, but was spooked immediately, dived and, despite watching intently for its reappearance I didn’t see it again. Fantastic creature, the first I’ve seen on or around the Wensum.
I’d thought there may be a chance of something good on the pool as the river is still largely flooded, though the waters in the meadows have receded a bit. A few swans, greylags and mallards are about, and I was pleased to see a dabchick also. The stretch of road from Costesey Mill to Drayton is gloriously quiet at present, wonderfully so, ever since a lorry drove into the Costessey Mill bridge – it’s completely closed off at present, and i’m hoping will remain so over Christmas, though it’s likely the Council will repair it soon.
Nice to hear from you. Very well done on the Otter, especially for seeing it in the Hidden Pool! Thanks for the very evocative description as well, I can only imagine how fantastic that was. I’ve not really had anything on that pool as of yet apart from a couple of Mallard, so its invigorating to hear that you’ve struck gold there.
My mum has informed me about the flooding down there in recent weeks and the road closures. The bend by the bridge is so steep, I’m not surprised that the accident happened there… The flooding makes me really want to be there; the birding is definitely at its most best in those conditions. Thanks for the updates on what’s been about, particularly jealous of your Dabchick; a great patch bird! Where did you see it from? Unfortunately I can’t make it down that way until after New Year, maybe as late as the beginning of February. In the meantime I’m going to do an account of my October patching in the next couple of weeks, plus maybe a review of the patching year. I do miss it a lot; does really well for somewhere so far inland. If you see anything else of interest, please let me know!