Before now, I felt I’d done Costessey House Private Estate an injustice this year. Aside from the rump end of a Christmas and New Year trip, I hadn’t been down to Norfolk at all in 2014 before April, but I ended up having precious little time to get out during that visit. Eventually, I managed to fit in a couple of weeks in at the beginning of this month, which finally made up for the lack of coverage earlier in the year and perked things up considerably.
I’ll briefly précis what was generally a hard-graft mid April on site. I was generally pretty peripatetic that month and in the meantime was having to revise for my impending first year exams, so the patch was somewhat neglected. Those few days I did manage to check the patch did not produce anything particularly fresh but were not entirely unproductive, as my visit saw in the arrivals of the majority breeding warblers on site, and numerous other summering species. Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat and the single Willow Warbler pair on site were conspicuous by their absence until the last day on site, 18th April. Swallow, Chiffchaff and Blackcap were present throughout, however. Certainly the most notable occurrence of the visit was a Cetti’s Warbler letting out a single, belligerent burst of song on the ‘trail side’ of Fishermen’s Trail on 15th April, before it flew over to the reeds and consequently disappeared, never to utter another explosive note, at least whilst I was around! A gorgeous pair of Otter fishing along the top of the Wensum at Costessey Marsh were much enjoyed during these flat times, but slunk underwater more or less as soon as I noticed them. That aside though, patching was proving quite laborious and I was beginning to believe that the patch had properly stagnated after an extremely productive 2013.
I was back with my hopes afresh on 31st May, and remained there until 11th June. The place is not only stunningly beautiful and warm in the tranquility of early summer, but it seems to be the most fruitful time of year for birding. Activity, be it breeding or just the showiness of all flora and fauna, is at its absolute optimum, and on this occasion it was still early enough to hear most stuff sing. The Swallows at the barn have had a stellar year, raising 5 young. Fledging took place on 5th June, as the juveniles sat desperately on the wires right by my bedroom window, incessantly waiting to be fed. The adults quickly attended, feeding each bird individual in perfect order from left to right across the wire. The next day, the juveniles took to the skies for the first time, a bit uneasy on the wing but nonetheless willing to partake in a general feeding frenzy in and around the paddocks. I was also delighted to find out that the local Fox pair, who have a den near the cottage, have successfully reared two cubs, which were seen frolicking together at the back of Costessey Marsh on 5th. The local Mallards have 13 chicks, whilst Nuthatch, Kingfisher, Great-spotted and Green Woodpeckers are showing signs of breeding activity and feeding regularly. A juvenile Egyptian Goose was noted on 1st, a sure sign that this year’s second brood was at least partially successful, whilst Mute Swan cygnets have yet to be seen despite nest building along Fishermen’s Trail in April.
During this general breeding frenzy, I put in my annual effort to survey the number of warbler pairs on 7th, and decided to throw in thrushes for good measure. It was an excellent session, allowing me to familiarize myself with the true numbers of breeding Turdus and warblers, to the extent I am fully aware of where each individual pair is based on site. It is immersion in the local birds like this that gives me a major kick patching-wise, very little is more fulfilling in helping me get to know the bids here. The results of the survey, which threw in a surprise or two and was rather more comprehensive than last year, were as follows:
- Sedge Warbler – 7 pairs: in same areas as last year, a new pair noted along the back of Costessey Marsh
- Reed Warbler – 1 singing male was heard at Fishermen’s Trail at 6:30pm and then again an hour later at the reeds leading into Costessey Marsh. The bird remained at Fishermen’s till the 8th but was gone the next day.
- Grasshopper Warbler – a pair were seen together on site
- Whitethroat – 9 pairs: an increase of 5 pairs from last year, two new pairs at back of Costessey Marsh
- Blackcap – 6 pairs: two new pairs at the back of Costessey Marsh in addition to last years 4
- Chiffchaff – 7 pairs: a new pair at the back of Costessey Marsh
- Willow Warbler – 1 pair: first confirmed breeding record on site
- Song Thrush – 7 pairs: throughout the site
- Blackbird – 10+ pairs: throughout the site
Both individuals from the Barn Owl pair showed themselves at various points during the visit, and it is believed that they are breeding again on site this year: I eagerly await to see if they produce any young. I was also delighted to find the first Little Owl of the year at the back of the paddocks at dusk on 10th: this was the only date that it was seen but I have reason to believe that the pair are present at the time of writing. The Hobbies have been conspicuous by their absence so far, though I expect them to be more showy further into the summer: just a single was noted, chased by Swifts on 4th. A brief flourish of uncommon patch species made up for their elusiveness however, with two Oystercatchers seen on two separate dates, representing the third and fourth records respectively and the first records for two years: no.1 was over Mill Meadow on 6th whilst no.2 was over Mill Field on 10th. 5 Canada Geese over Costessey Marsh, including a dodgy Canada x Barnacle hybrid, were only the second patch record of this species, whilst two impressive Serotine Bats hawking relentlessly over the back of the marsh in the serenity of a sticky twilight on 1st were a full blown mammal first.
Finally, we move on to the patch firsts, of which there was a fulsome three, taking the overall patch total up to 103 species, two off my intended 2014 target. Prior to this month, I had had no patch lifers at all this year, which was one of the primary reasons for my believing that things had become stagnant. I was relieved to get calls from family during May alerting me of the long-term presence of a Cuckoo on site. I continued to get calls about it right up until my visit, and was able to finally connect on 31st, as its hollow-sounding call reverberated throughout Costessey Marsh and I later watched it being mobbed by mistaken Jackdaws who presumably thought it was a Sparrowhawk. I was delighted to find that it would remain consistently until I left on the 11th, adding a dose of quality to summer patching this time round; this is the first summer this has happened on patch since 2011 at least and is a wider indicator of a great year for Cuckoos UK wide. It always remained recalcitrant and never showed well though, and seemed to habitually make an appearance mid-afternoon between Mill Field and Fishermen’s Trail, usually at around 4:00pm. At other points during the day, I assume it may be at a breeding site off patch. The best views were had of it calling on the dead tree at the start of Mill Lane on 1st for a couple of minutes, but apart from that I was limited to distant or brief flight views. Nonetheless though, a partly expected but much appreciated patch first.
The second patch first was fairly unremarkable and entirely expected as a former patch bogey that I was thankful to get out the way; two Sand Martins joining a lively congregation of hirundines over Mill Field consisting of some 20 House Martins, 15 Swallows and 40 Swifts on 5th. I would have been fairly content with just this and Cuckoo for the visit, but I was in for one final bonus on the last night. As I arrived home from a meal out at around 9:45pm, a very familiar wader call sounded twice in the silence of dusk. I think it’s fair to say I have rarely been as excited by a Common Redshank as I was at that moment. A quick look up and I clocked the bird bolting westwards. It’s always very exhilarating, after hours of trying for them, when a wader flies over Costesesy H.P.E.. Admittedly Redshank was a main contender for the next new patch wader, but nonetheless any wader sp. is a good record, and there is not that much good habitat for this species in the Costessey area generally, especially on patch. It constitutes to the 9th species of wader recorded on site: Curlew is definitely favourites for no. 10. And so that Tringa terminated a reinvigorating visit, which has restored my belief in Costessey House Private Estate.
Are there many more opportunities to continue this fruitful spell on patch? At the moment, unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be many. I am down again for a few days only in July, and then after that I might not be down again until the autumn. Does that 105 seem within reasonable reach? Yes, but I have my doubts that I will manage if I don’t have a good long visit until the autumn or beyond. Which species seem likely now? Curlew, Red Kite, Common Sandpiper and Tufted Duck are on my agenda, but the patch often bucks my predicted trends! We’ll have to see what happens.
Thanks for reading,