Not in a seasonal sense, more hardcore local patching at Costessey House Private Estate which started in late June and spread into early July. I spent a couple of weeks in Norfolk during this period, with a long weekend in Holland in between. As usual, there was plenty of action – both bonus rewards and breeding discoveries – to keep things ticking over.
At some level, raptors stole the show during my early summer visit. The Kestrels were confirmed to have bred successfully once again, with a young male seen hunting independently from the pair during early July; always invigorating to see given the charisma of these underrated falcons.
The raptor accolades though go to two far less consistent species on patch. My only previous record of HOBBY on the patch was of a pair in late August. At the time I presumed it was just a one off pair moving through, so when I first connected with a single darting through Drayton Meadows on June 23rd I was absolutely enthused. It was a revelation of sorts. From that moment I realised that a pair of Hobbies are in fact, summer visitors to Costessey House Private Estate. They were irregular throughout the visit, with the only other records on 25th June hawking in the distance at Mill Meadow, and on the 2nd + 4th July flying through Mill Field. On June 23rd, I connected with the male amidst a storm of frenzied Swifts, as a looming front of grey interruptedly collided with the sunshine, bringing with it a shed-load of rain and a brief but intense gale. The lithe, scythe-winged beauty struggled powerlessly against the bluster, aerially inept. It was the first time I had ever seen Hobby in this state of airborne disrepair. To me they are usually masters of flight, more so than most other falcons, with their preternatural hawking agility and super quick manoeuvring at lower levels. But on this occasion, its delicate frame caused it to be thrust at great pace westwards without it really being able to manoeuvre itself. Anyway, the brilliant thing is that these birds are here throughout the summer, a fairly reliable feature in decent conditions. There are very few species I would rather have summering: their presence is true testimony to the capabilities of the patch in producing speciality species.
Coming a close second to Hobby was a real bonus on 24th June at the back of Drayton Meadows. Steve was with me and called a falco sp. bolting eastwards. Calmness metamorphosed into exhilaration as we connected with a male PEREGRINE, prey in talons, going hell for leather over Hidden Pool! Its back always to us, and somewhat silhouetted, the views were not all that brilliant, but the adrenaline of the moment meant that didn’t matter at all. It was very quickly a dot in the horizon towards Hellesdon: an all too fleeting piece of patch madness and magic. Peregrine was of the few remaining realistic patch lifers available, given the success of a pair on Norwich Cathedral last year. This was almost certainly the cathedral pair male, as it was heading due eastwards towards Norwich. As the Peregrine flies it’s not far at all, so with a bit of luck there will be future records on patch. A mighty good patch first though: my first of three new species during the visit.
The patch had really kicked above its weight raptor-wise, more so than ever before. Owls complemented this trend nicely, with all three species present throughout the visit. Tawny Owls were heard occasionally, with one seen briefly at dusk on 24th. The paler of the two Barn Owls was also obliging on a nightly basis, hunting in and around the paddocks during nightfall, its screeching car-break call leaving behind a chill in the summer night half-light.
I was out by the paddocks nightly when I realized that the Little Owl pair had returned for the summer. A noisy single at the back of the paddocks on 24th signalled the pair’s emphatic return well after dusk. Over the following few days the landlady reported the two of them in her garden, but it wasn’t until I got back from Holland on 2nd July that the pair finally ventured in to the paddocks, when both were seen briefly flying from the dead tree just after dusk from the cottage window. I thought this would be the state of play for the remainder of the visit, so I definitely wasn’t prepared when I returned home from dinner out on 3rd to find one perching on the edge of the planted conifer at the edge of the front lawn! Bloody hell! By some miracle, I managed to grab my DSLR from the cottage and get a few photos down to 15ft before it flew towards the paddocks; a rare opportunity well taken. After that, any further nightly paddock trips felt pointless. That was as good as it gets, as this pic should demonstrate. Whilst Hobby may have knocked Little Owl off the top spot for ‘best patch summer visitor’, these enigmatic things still have a lastingly supreme patch status; just fantastic birds.
Aside from raptor activity, warblers provided the most entertainment. During quieter periods, I was occupied in trying to establish the amount of pairs of the warbler species on site. In a concerted effort to check on the status of breeding warblers on 23rd June, mostly measured by number of singing males but also breeding related activity, I noted (this coming straight from the good ol’ notebook):
- Sedge Warbler – 6+ pairs, as with last yr.: 2 on opposite sides of Fishermen’s Trail, including one juv seen. 1 pair in reeds leading to Drayton Meadows, female seen with faecal sack. 3+ pairs on DM, possibly 4.
- Whitethroat – 3 pairs: pair at Mill Lane by Mill Meadow with two juvs, as with last yr. Singing males at start of DM and pair with 1+ juv at back of DM.
- Blackcap: 4 pairs: pair at start of ML, pair in Drayton Woods, pair near Witches’ Field with two young (photographed), pair at the back of DM.
- Chiffchaff – 7+ pairs: one pair with two juv at start of ML, males along Fishermen’s Trail, x2 Drayton Woods, x2 at back of Drayton Meadows, x1 nr. Witches’ Field.
These warbler species definitely breed on site, though it is possible that three other species do as well. A singing male Willow Warbler at the back of Drayton Meadows was a decent patch record, heard on 25th June and again on 2nd July, so there is a good chance there is a single pair here. Slightly less likely but more excitingly is the same possibility with Reed Warbler: a singing male from 2nd July-5th July in the reeds opposite Fishermen’s Trail being only a patch second. After the first record of two birds in late August 2012, it again seems likely that they breed on site, or if not just off.
The warbler highlight on patch was two Grasshopper Warblers on 25th, again only a patch second and invigorating to confirm that this species is summering. Unfortunately I don’t think the same can be said of my second patch first of the trip: Garden Warbler, with an elusive and occasionally singing male present at the start of Fishermen’s Trail on 24th-25th June only. This Garden Warbler signifies the 9th species of warbler on patch, completing the set of Norfolk breeding warblers – superb and testimony to the diverse habitat the patch offers. As it stands Garden Warbler and Cetti’s Warbler are the most under-recorded warblers on patch, with only single records. That may well change…
The third patch first of the visit came on 2nd July when I turned the corner of Mill Lane back towards the cottage only to connect with a TREECREEPER amongst a family of Blue Tits. Get in patch; you little beauty. This was always going to be a tricky species to get on site, but one that was a marginal possibility, which made connecting ever more sweet. It was distant but still allowed for a few record shots. This takes the patch list up to 97 species and 90 for the year already – never thought the big 100 would be on this quickly! Could it happen by the end of this year? That’s the aim, and I am confident the patch can do it.
A Nuthatch at Costessey House, a few Common Terns and the Kingfisher pair were both in evidence on a daily basis, as with last summer. On 26th June I had stonking and prolonged views of the latter at the end of Fishermen’s Trail, where they caught fish and returned to the same perching spot under the bridge for 15 minutes. Photography was difficult as high nettles shrouded my view, so I had to wait until the end to grab a brief opportunity of one of the birds out in the open. These were by the far the best views I have had of Kingfisher though; astonishing birds that add so much colour to the patch both literally and metaphorically. On the same day a Little Egret west towards Taverham over Mill Meadow was a decent record.
The only wader of the visit was one of the main overall highlights. A real sense of déjà vu was had when I heard a GREEN SANDPIPER overhead at dusk on 4th July. I scanned hastily for it, but it was too dark to make it out despite it calling a few times. At the same time of day last August I had seen two flying low overhead, so it is clear that this species funnels through as a flyover occasionally once passage starts. A real top patch bird though.
At least 15 Swallows were present (8 or so around the barn), including a pair with two young that happen to perch on the wire outside my bedroom window and beg for food. Swift numbers were always high over Drayton Meadows, with a maximum of 50 on 26th. The Pied Wagtail pair has two young that favour the front lawn, whilst at least 8 Song Thrushes sing throughout the patch and there are 5-6 Reed Bunting pairs. The Egyptian Geese have left after the successful breeding attempt, but more unfortunately the Mute Swan pair don’t seem to have bred this year, as there was no sign of any young whatsoever. Maybe the young were eaten, or they did not nest. A real shame, but the range of other breeding species has made up for that loss.
This visit, rather than being dominated by bonuses, was more about the true diverse range of summering species on site: to have species such as Hobby around at this time of year is unequivocal evidence that it is capable of hosting nationally important birds, which I hope will continue for a long time to come. I am down for most of August, so maybe expect more regular and less long-winded (!!) accounts then. For now though…
Thanks for reading,