Happy New Year to all my readers and thanks for your loyalty in 2012. To kick off the year there’s a few posts in store, starting with an overdue post of my October patching when I was down in Norfolk. Before I get into those details, however, there’s news in that I have submitted Costessey House Private Estate for inclusion in the Patchwork Challenge, under way as of January 1st. Whilst I know I have zero chance of winning and don’t mind about that, I have entered the beloved patch into the Norfolk mini-league instead of the inland patch league, mainly to see how it fares against a few other inland Norfolk patches that are taking part, which should be interesting. With its almost entire lack of pools it won’t be challenging the likes of Whitlingham, but it could compete against some of the others, especially if its flooding while I’m around.
Most importantly though, taking part provides an incentive for hard-graft patching this year and beyond. Hopefully the extra enthusiasm will lead to a healthier patch list and some interesting finds on site this year. Last year I scored my entire patch list total bar one (House Sparrow) – 82 species – which I’m very glad with considering that I can only make it down 5 or 6 times a year. New patch birds will obviously be harder to come by this year, but a bit of flooding and pot luck should hopefully see another crop of new patch birds grace the area and the majority of the same species make an appearance. I could potentially be spending a lenghty amount of time in Norfolk post-exams (a month+ maybe), so I will be aiming for between 80-85 species on site this year, which I’ll be very glad with. Anything better and I’ll be delighted. After birds such as Yellow-legged Gull, Hobby, Green Sandpiper, 3 owl species and a wide array of warblers last year, it’s exhilarating to think what the patch could muster this year. We’ll have to wait and see. I will be down in the area in late Jan/early Feb so will be able to kick things off on the patchwork front. Here’s to a successful patching year. Below is the map of the patch I submitted for the competition.
I had planned to patch daily during my near two week stay in mid October, but with plenty of birding and other things going on this didn’t quite happen. I was able to work it most days, however, and given the time of year there was plenty of potential to pull a few things out the bag.
I was first able to get out on 15th, during the afternoon after a morning of rain. As always, anticipation was at an all time high as I stepped out onto a far less overgrown and vibrant looking patch than previously, though Drayton Meadows was still largely inaccessible. More or less immediately on entering the patch did a flock of 35 Redwings bolt across the path towards Mill Field, a sign of larger numbers to come of a species that would be daily from then on, though in fact that was the second highest patch Redwing count at that point. A Collared Dove in the thickets at the start of Mill Lane was also of note, just the third patch record of this species. As always seems to be the case on the first moments of returning to the patch in a long while, things were lively, with a flurry of activity at Fishermen’s Field producing a patch tick with a Siskin east overhead and a Lesser Redpoll in the same direction shortly afterwards, as well as 3 Grey Wagtails which were flushed from the river’s redge at the start of Fishermen’s Trail, the latter only the second record of this species on site. At least a couple of these Grey Wags stuck around for the majority of my stay, though only seen on and off. Another unprecedented long stayer was a pair of Cormorants which took a liking to the dead tree half a way along Fishermen’s Trail. There had only been two previous records of Cormorant, both of which were flyovers, so it came as a bit of a surprise to see two them atop the dead tree. They were an everyday fixture until I left, so I’ll be interested to see if they’re still around when I’m next down.
As expected, the patch had done its turnover to winter species by this point, with basically all the summer visitors having disappeared with the exception of Reed Bunting, with just a pair seen throughout my stay, though there may have been more lurking in the far reedbeds. The expected Black-headed Gulls and Common Gulls were back, with 20 of the former and 5 of the latter in the Drayton Meadows area that day. By the end of my stay numbers had reached an all time high of both species, with flocks congregating daily in a newly harvested field along Marriot’s Way. A maximum of 140 Black-headed Gulls (breaking the record of 120) and 10 Common Gulls (mostly 2cy + 3cy birds) were noted here on 24th. The field also attracted a 5 Great Black Backed Gulls on 24th, surprisingly only the second record of this brutish Larus. Conversely, Lesser Black Backeds had cleared out entirely; summer had long given up the ghost.
Amongst the gulls on Drayton Meadows on 15th I was delighted to set eyes on the two Egyptian Geese, roosting and unfazed by the noise and activity around them. The Egyptian Geese are such charismatic birds, adding a bit of colour both literally and metaphorically, so it was a great moment to see that they had returned after 6 months elsewhere. Where they go I’m not sure, but I missed them when they weren’t around, though I soon got used to them being around on a daily basis again. According to one of the neighbours, they were apparently both seen furiously fending off a third bird a few days ago; presumably a genuine fly-over Egyptian Goose from somewhere nearby.
One of my concerns first thing during my patching is to see how the resident species are getting on, in particular the Mute Swans. The two cygnets were still keeping close to their parents, but I was surprised by how much they’d progessed since my last visit at the end of August; far larger and better developed. They had all but lost the smokey grey plumage and cute-faced appearance, instead acquiring an off-brown colouration. One of them even had a large sheen of adult white plumage on the underwings and axiliaries. By the time I visit at the end of this month they should hopefully be full size and largely independent from the adults. The two Barn Owls were also seen regularly (though never together), mostly on Mill Meadow, allowing for some superb views of my favourite resident patch species. On 19th I found myself having a stare-off with the younger bird, cat eyed and motionless, but with its gaze transfixed on me as I noticed it deep in the thickets at the start of Mill Lane down to 5ft. As quietly and slowly as possible I attempted to get my camera out of my bag and get a photo of this memorable moment, but it was alert, lifting off and disappearing on the first jolt of my body. Up to 2 Tawny Owls were heard throughout, but unfortunately there was still no further sign of any Little Owls.
Patching was pretty quiet over that two week period, with new patch birds being sparse. Up until the last two days, I contented myself with odd highlights such as 2 Kingfishers flying together along the River Wensum on 16th, 14 Meadow Pipits at Drayton Meadows on 16th (by far the largest total seen on site), a Nuthatch on 19th by the cottage, 4 Goldcrests on 15th (second record), 10 Long-tailed Tits on 19th and a Buzzard on various dates.
The last two days patching took place in the midst of a major fall, so it was no surprise that they produced some niceties. Up to 100 Redwing and 10I Fieldfares were throughout the patch on 24th, the former a patch record, with another 60 and 5 respectively on 25th. Given the prime conditions for migrants and reports of Ring Ouzels and other thrushes having moved as far inland as Norwich, I was hopeful the patch would produce something along these lines. The 25th came up trumps, with 36 Pink-footed Geese north over Fishermen’s Field a much wanted patch tick right from the off. Up to 50 Feral Pigeons over Drayton Meadows was easily the largest number of this flyover species I’ve seen on the patch.
With this fruitful start, I was hoping there was more out there to discover. It struck gold as I came across a sizeable, mixed finch/bunting flock on the newly harvested field right by Marriot’s Way. 9 Linnets were immediately obvious – like the pinkies a much needed patch tick – amongst at least 40 Goldfinch, 30 Chaffinch, 10 Greenfinch, 2 Yellowhammers and a 1w male Reed Bunting. As they moved hither and thither between the field and the trees, I caught sight of a flashing white rump. This exactly what I had hoped for given the influx but thought wouldn’t materialise; a winter plumage male Brambling. Views were only brief as it fed intently with the Chaffinches right by the path, before disappearing into the undergrowth and not appearing again. I was delighted though; a very valuable patch tick that I probably won’t see again for some time to come. There was quite a flurry of activity at this point, with 2 Mistle Thrushes amongst some passing Fieldfares and Redwings being a bonus second for the patch, with the female Sparrowhawk in hot pursuit.
Patching ended on that very productive note. Despite days of quietness, it had managed to pull out the goods once again, with Brambling the highlight of 4 patch ticks. Since my last visit, I’ve had reports of an Otter on Hidden Pool, a couple of skeins of Pinkeets and plenty of flooding, which no doubt produced a few new patch birds that I am itching to see. Fingers crossed there’s flooding when I’m down at the end of this month.
Thanks for reading,