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Thanks for taking time to visit the 2008 Happisburgh Bird Diary, we hope you enjoyed reading it. To find out what Ossie and I see this year please visit the Happisburgh Parish Bird List 2009 ...

28th - 31st December

On our return from France on the 29th the wind had gravitated to the east and it was very cold albeit dry. Frost lasted all day on the grass in the shade of our garden fence and the ground beneath had become icily hard. Tuesday was a gloriously sunny day but New Years Eve remained shrouded in cloud.

Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers were interacting along the Lessingham Road in the Tuesday sunshine, the male drumming and giving chase to the female in what was perhaps a preliminary courtship ritual. They disappeared along the lane, passing by the nest hole that was maybe nursery to their youngsters in 2007. Back home a Snipe circled low over the garden, it may even have flown up from the garden, and a 'wisp' of 5 flew over a while later, probably heading to feed in the now rank grass of the pastures bordering our lane. In keeping with the images on many of the seasonal greetings cards that doubtless adorned many Happisburgh homes at this time, a bright eyed Robin had become a familiar sight in the garden, his boldness growing with each day.

And so 2008 drew to a close, our journey further into the new millenium passing un-noticed in the lives of the birds around us. But the Earth has once again begun it's annual tilt that will bring longer and warmer days back to the coastal parishes of north-east Norfolk. The cycle of the seasons continues and hopefully my lovely dog Oswald and I will continue to enjoy them together for many years to come...

21st -27th December

Sunday, again, was quite mild with some nice bright spells. The rather light wind was from the westerly quarter throughout with temperatures quite reasonable in the run up to the Christmas period. The largely cloudy skies were broken from time to time by some brighter intervals.

Walking Oswald into Lessingham and back on Sunday morning I was aware that there were plenty of Woodpigeons about and that they were apparently rather agitated. Once airborne I 'guesstimated' the flock size to be around the 700 mark and a few moments searching the skyline soon revealed the cause of their disturbance; a Peregrine. Judging from it's large size I felt it was a female and it flew inbound on a course from the coast and steadily, quite lazily in fact, parted to the south-west in the direction of Brunstead not really showing too much interest in the flighty Woodies.

I didn't manage to check the Pink-feet flock near the water tower this week, time wouldn't allow for it, but their daily to-ing and fro-ing over the garden was a certain sign that they were still enjoying the feeding on offer there. From Christmas Eve we left Happisburgh for a few days, a special birthday celebrated in Paris on the 27th the reason for our mini break across the icy looking North Sea...

14th - 20th December

A dull and grey Sunday was relieved after dark when thinning cloud revealed a large but waning moon. It was quite mild too, and several moths on the wing were providing a food source for a late season Pipistrelle. Temperatures had dropped by Tuesday, Wednesday saw a frost and rain arrived later on Thursday. Following a bright, frosty start to Friday the wind picked up from the south-west, bringing with it rain, and it was generally rather damp for the rest of the week.

The biggest avian feature this week was the number of Pink-footed Geese flying overhead daily. Each morning and evening large noisy skeins totalling some 2,500 - 3,000 birds would head west in the mornings, returning eastward later in the day. As always they provided a real spectacle and I heard my neighbours come outside to marvel on more than one occasion. I soon guessed they were feeding on a suitable field not too far away, and following the morning school run on Wednesday I located a flock numbering c.2,500 in a harvested sugar beet field between East Ruston water tower and the Stalham to Walcott road. A couple of scans somewhat disappointingly revealed no other Goose species in their midst but some nearby 'brown clods' catching my eye proved to be 5 Grey Partridges; a nice little covey. Whether genuine wild individuals or bred and released I know not, but a group like this is a welcome sight these days.

Part of a large flock of Pink-footed Geese taking flight from a feeding session on some local sugar beet tops, a favourite and valuable element of their winter diet.

Aside from the Pinks the only other sightings of note were c.300 Lapwings which flew west over School Common Road later in the week and a hunting female Marsh Harrier which was quartering fields just over the parish boundary in Lessingham one morning...

7th - 13th December

We endured another seven days of weather similar to last week but with more rain, and by the middle of the week there was quite a bit of surface water on the local roads and fields. It was never really windy throughout, Saturday's shift to a force 6 S-SE'ly giving us the windiest day. It was also a very wet with the wind and rain which arrived late morning continued until midnight at least.

Things were quiet on the bird front although another Waxwing overflew the garden calling as I had my head in the woodstore early on Thursday. Looking up I only saw a single bird as it disappeared behind the rooftop, although I can't discount that others may have accompanied it. I took Ossie on a slightly different route later, noting 4 Skylark and 2 Yellowhammers on a field near Short Lane, but as I returned along the Lessingham Road a distant flock of c80 Skylarks were airborne to the south, perhaps taking evasive action from an unseen predator.

Several skeins of Pink-feet were seen moving both NW and SE most days and their seemingly unsettled nature may just have been indicative of local feeding movements. It may be interesting to note that this week coincides with a full moon and the calls of Pinks could be heard after dark on the clearer nights as they probably headed out to feed on sugar beet tops under the moonlight. We walked the fields to the cliffs after the early fog had cleared on Friday, a flock of c60 Lapwing catching my eye as they dropped down to the west of the village. We didn't see much else, but looking towards Eccles on the return journey I noticed a distant but conspicuously white looking bird flying towards us. Raising my binoculars to it I could see it was a Little Egret steadily and purposefully heading flying along the line of the cliff and I watched as it passed the village and continued towards Walcott...

A gleaming white Little Egret in flight, an increasingly common sight in east Norfolk.
© Ron McIntyre

30th November - 6th December

Without any doubt winter was with us as it remained cold throughout the week, although there was a mixture of grey, dry days, spells of rain and sleet, a midweek dusting of snow and a couple of brighter, frosty morns. Saturday had a slightly milder feeling to it though.

Braving the very cold ENE'r around midday on Sunday, I headed to the RNLI for a quick seawatch. As expected, wildfowl were passing although not in particularly impressive numbers. It was nice to see a total of 50 Eider passing north in a few parties, the flocks being made up of gleaming black-trimmed-white adult males, some immature males and some dowdy brown females. 5 Brent Geese, 20 Wigeon and 45 Teal were on the move too and 4 Red-throated Divers were diving offshore as a few more passed up and down the coast. The continuing cold weather was probably the cause of an apparent Lapwing movement early in the week when I noted 78 heading roughly south over the garden with a couple of flocks totalling c450 westward the next day. A few Redwings, Blackbirds and a Fieldfare were along School Common Road as I took Ossie for his morning walk on Tuesday and a Redpoll bounded over calling. Having only recently added them to my parish list, 8 Waxwings flying over lifted my mood from my dreadful cold.

Quietly unassuming, Bullfinches are probably not given the credit they deserve as a 'wow' bird. © Arthur Grosset

Our walk out on Friday after a few early spots of rain was brightened by the sight of 2 male Bullfinches in the thicker hedgerow along the lane towards Lessingham. Although still a common british bird, they are often overlooked as they tend to be rather quiet and secretive, so I took some time to study these closely for a while and really appreciate their contrasting clear grey, jet black and bright rose pink plumage. Further round our circuit a few Snipe flushed from a ploughed field close to the footpath, then a few more until a total of 18 had flown up and across the field settling at, for them, a more comfortable range. A limited amount of shooting takes place in this general area and, with breeding Snipe numbers suffering a decline in recent years, I hoped that the guns involved would spare the birds in this nice wintering flock...

23rd - 29th November

The wintry theme continued and the snow kept falling giving up to 3" settled by late Sunday morning. The wind shifted NE'ly where it remained, apart from a rather variable few hours on Wednesday. Some showers of sleet and snow featured at times throughout the week but although it didn't feel much like it, the air temperature must have risen slightly, as the week ended with some light rain.

For me, the week passed rather quietly and my notebook looks rather bare. Monday's weather was conducive to some good sea-watching and by all accounts good numbers of wildfowl were passing offshore. A friend, Robin, watched from Walcott for a while noting a good passage of Common Scoter, Wigeon and Eider but his sighting of 8 Velvet Scoter was the pick of the crop. My highlight, apart from a good view of a perched Tawny Owl in my headlights as I took the back roads to Stalham one night, was a flock of Pink-footed Geese just outside the parish in Lessingham which contained a bird bearing a numbered plastic collar. As I was in my car the flock wasn't too bothered about my prescence, and with the aid of a telescope the collar number was easily read. Submitting the details, a grey collar marked LNI, I soon received a reply detailing sightings since the bird was first caught and marked in Aberdeenshire in April 2006. It was next seen in April 2007, much further south in Scotland at Loch Leven, followed by an October 16th 2007 sighting back in Aberdeenshire at Loch of Strathbeg. It had moved south to Nether Terryvale to the west of Aberdeen by mid December 2007 and was not recorded any more until my sighting here. Any sightings detailing birds marked with collars or colour rings can be reported via the British Trust for Ornithology here.

A collar marked Pink-footed Goose. An excellent article about this scheme can be read on the website of the Lancashire based Fylde Bird Club from where this photo originates.

16th - 22nd November

A generally wintry flavour to the weather from the outset this week with a N'ly element to the wind direction most days, giving a keen edge to the breeze. Although the wind came from the south on Monday it remained cold, and despite some sunshine at times midweek 'real feel' temperatures remained low. Friday saw near gale force gusts bearing frequent showers of sleet and snow and enough fell overnight to give a dusting by the morning.

I was fortunate this week in that I added two species of bird to my Happisburgh and garden lists. The first came in the shape of a Water Rail which laid lifeless on the drive below some overhead cables. Although capable of migrating quite long distances, Rails are rather ungainly in flight and are prone to colliding with such man-made obstacles. However we have a cat, and I feel that she was most likely to have been the cause of the demise of this particular individual, perhaps catching it in one of the damp ditches close by. The second addition was added as I approached the gate returning from one of Ossie's walks when a very distinctive ringing trill triggered an almost involuntarily exclamation of "Waxwing!". It was aimed at no-one, I was alone, and I don't suppose for one minute poor Ossie understood, but on the whole birders are prone to do this when they chance upon a half decent bird. Looking up, ten of these most handsome northern wanderers flew over and headed westward over the fields. I presumed that these were the same birds that had spent a few days between Ingham and Sea Palling in recent days but it was nice that I had connected with them in the home parish.

Curious birds are Water Rails. Their bodies are strangely flat, designed for a life walking through reeds and they make a squealing sound rather like a pig.

The RNLI station in the village provides some shelter from the elements and I stopped by a few times in the week to see what was happening at sea. A flock of Common Scoter was starting to build offshore and numbered c.50 on most visits. Their larger, scarcer cousin, the Velvet Scoter was a nice sight to behold on Monday when 4 flew westwards quite close inshore over a relatively calm sea, a second individual passing by on Friday. Scoters are, by and large, dark brown or black sea ducks but the Velvet's dark monotone is relieved by vivid white inner wing patches that instantly seperate the two species in flight. Seawatch tallies were rather lean during my visits with a few Gannets, Guillemots and occasional Red-throated Divers passing, small numbers of waders and wildfowl too, two Red-breasted Mergansers being second best to the Velvets. Passerines noted whilst watching from here included an 'in off' Fieldfare, a single overhead Rock Pipit and a male Snow Bunting.

A keen eye can occasionally pick out the odd Velvet Scoter associating with larger numbers of Common Scoter. Here is a pair, the male in the foreground. © Arthur Grosset

At least two different Marsh Harriers visited the parish during the week, I had four sightings in all, and a Woodcock burst out from under a hedge by the paddocks as I walked past one day. Blackbirds were again around in good numbers and as I walked from the paddocks homeward, at least 80 moved along the hedgerow in front of me enabling me to count them as they flew from the end of the hedge across to the mature cottage garden opposite College Farm. Golden Plover had gathered on a clifftop field one morning but nowhere near the numbers that I had seen over this way last week, as the party numbered just 57. The final two species worthy of mention were another Snow Bunting near the Decca site, perhaps one of the two seen last week, and a nice wintering flock of 24 Skylarks which I saw from the green lane near the border with Lessingham...

9th - 15th November

The SW'lies continued all week, nudging more W'ly on Wednesday and Thursday for a while. It was breezy too, more so on Sunday night, rather cold and with some rain at times during the first few days. By the end of Saturday the wind had eased and veered to the NW.

More Woodpigeons than is usual appeared in fields just north of home on Sunday morning when in excess of 1,200 were 'guesstimated' on the dog walk. Also, largish flock of Golden Plover, c200 strong, appeared to be coming in to land in the vicinity of the lighthouse but a hopefully closer scrutiny of them would have to wait for another day as time would allow. A few Song Thrushes, Redwings, Chaffinches and Skylarks appeared to be on the move too, albeit locally perhaps. Redpolls were noted twice in the week, 3 birds overflying the garden giving their metallic 'chit-chit-chit' call on Monday with a single over the following morning. Either the Lesser or Common species, the calls are similar so these birds had to go down as either/or. The small party of Twite were still around too being seen by Bob in their usual haunt on Thursday.

Pink-footed Geese flying over in the week often gave the impression that they weren't actually going very far and I soon sussed that they were dropping down in fields west of the village. A party of c100 flying west on Wednesday had an adult White-fronted Goose amongst them, easily picked out by it's much browner colouration and white forehead blaze showing up easily in the sunshine. After the morning school run on Friday I detoured to the water tower in East Ruston with the intention of using the height there to look for exactly where the geese may be. Luckily they were in fields between my location and the road that runs west from Happisburgh and although rather distant, I was able to get a reasonable view looking down on them. Two 'Tundra' Bean Geese were easily picked out, their bright orange legs an excellent field mark in the good morning sunlight and the following day, when part of the flock was nearer to the top end of Grubb Street and more closely approachable, I had good views of 3 of them. From here, I took Ossie to stretch his legs along the cliffs bumping into Andy along the way. He couldn't find the Twite but had seen 2 Snow Buntings at the base of the cliffs which were still there as we walked past. Stopping at the Decca site for a quick scan over the sea Andy called "What's this!?" as a dark looking Falcon appeared. It was a Peregrine, the awkward angle of the light making it appear unusually almost dark grey as it soon disappeared south-eastwards inland from the cliffs.

Peregrines are an increasingly regular visitor to the county, birds particularly favouring Broadland and the north coast. This is a juvenile bird. © Arthur Grosset

2nd - 8th November

The wind continued generally from the E until Friday, when it veered S'ly and onto a SW'ly for Saturday. Wind strength remained low throughout and it was cloudy, often drizzly and there wasn't really any brighter weather until the change in wind as the weekend neared.

Sunday morning was an opportunity for me to get an early start and see what was happening over the sea for a while. Driving along the lane in the dawn gloom, a Woodcock flew up from a gateway and off across the fields heading for a more secluded daytime roost site. They will often feed in daylight during a prolonged cold spell, but are generally a bird that become active at dusk. I saw this sighting as a good omen and continued on to the RNLI station on the clifftop. Light levels were still quite low but a few duck were passing and a dark shape on the sea, close in, was an immature Shag which soon flew north. A slightly unusual call drew my attention and I soon traced it to a female or immature Black Redstart which was finding the remains of the slipway to it's liking. A Chiffchaff was in the end of the lovely scrubby hedge here too and a streamlined Grey Wagtail flew overhead. During my watch Gannets (60) and Kittiwakes (41) were heading south and 8 Little Gulls passed the same way as did a party of 5 Dunlin. Another 4 Little Gulls flew north, a distant and poorly seen Great or Pomarine Skua flew south and 5 Starlings came straight 'in off'. It was, however, wildfowl that were most evident and my totals were Wigeon (N70, S12), Teal (N45, S22), Gadwall S2, Common Scoter (N2, S13), Eider S14, Shoveler N1, Goldeneye N1, Mallard S2 and Brent Goose N5. The star bird though was initially picked up at 07:30 approching from the NE and flying just above the horizon. It's airy, light manner of flight was reminiscent of that of a Tern and it's dark smudgy head had me thinking "This could be a Sabs!" I was still not seeing it well enough though, any other features were difficult to pick out against the sky and I willed it to lose altitude so I could try and look for other features against the darker background of the sea. The outer flight feathers gave a strong impression of being very dark compared to the rest of the upperparts but the view was still inconclusive and I continued hoping for a change in flight direction. The bird was slowly becoming closer and all of a sudden it turned head on and then went into a twisting dive as if chasing some unseen object. This was enough for me to see the distinctive upperpart pattern of blackish outer primary feathers, a clean white inner wing and dark grey-brown wing covert and mantle feathering that only belongs to an immature Sabine's Gull. The blackish tip to the forked white tail was also obvious, especially when spread as the bird was twisting and turning. After several seconds of this behaviour, it continued flying north and what was presumably the same bird was seen on the beach at Mundesley some time later. Nesting in the high Arctic and highly pelagic outside the breeding season, Sabine's Gull is a regular passage visitor to the UK, although it remains rather scarce on the east coast. Ossie still needed his walk despite my desire to continue watching the sea, so I left for home shortly after my 'highlight' and walked him along the lane to the paddocks. As we left the house 83 Fieldfares dropped into one of the large Oaks at the bottom of the garden, and all along the lane were Blackbirds (I recorded 'Lots!' in my notebook), Redwings and Song Thrushes whilst Skylarks and several Chaffinches passed overhead. Goldcrests were everywhere again, 30+ in the hedgerows along the lane and around the paddocks, these accompanied by numerous Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits. A Stonechat was also present along a grassy field edge, utilising a farm implement as a vantage point, and with Waxwing, Long-eared Owl and Great Northern Diver seen by visiting birders, the village probably experienced one of it's best bird days of the autumn. Incidentally Jim, who saw the latter two species, also saw the Twite flock along the cliffs, noting that a sixth bird had joined them and that two had been colour ringed as part of a Twite study project somewhere. Details hopefully to follow later.

Returning home past East Ruston Common after dark on Monday I chanced upon a Woodcock lying in the road, a victim of a collision with the car that I had passed seconds earlier I expect. I stopped and picked it up, the poor thing unmarked and still just clinging to life but soon dying in my supporting hands. A sad end for such an intriguing bird that quite possibly may have ventured here from Northern Europe, a journey which would have involved a perilous crossing of the North Sea. Feeling saddened I continued homeward but the sight of another Woodcock, picked out in my headlights as it walked the verge along our lane, lifted my spirit somewhat and I felt a sense of wonder musing what it might be like to experience life as a wild bird does without a humans sentimentality. I managed to walk the clifftop a few times throughout the week noting the Snow Bunting flock on more than one date, the flock peaking at 17 birds. An Arctic Skua flew lazily northwards on Monday afternoon and as I walked through the Decca site on Wednesday a Short-eared Owl flushed from close range. It only flew as far as Halcholm where it dropped to the ground beneath the west facing hedge, gaining shelter from the chill breeze. The following morning I took Oswald as far as the top of our lane and scanned the paddocks noticing a male Ring Ouzel feeding with some Blackbirds there. Ring Ouzels pass through in varying numbers each autumn but in my experience they are much more frequent in spring, so I was a little surprised to find this one. Saturday 8th was sunny with clear skies and a couple of low flying flocks of Pink-feet passing overhead had me stop and look more closely. I never tire of seeing them and there is always the chance of picking out a different species if you are really lucky, which is exactly what happened here as the second skein contained 5-6 White-fronted Geese, the white facial blaze and black belly barring of the adult bird an easily seen identification mark. Having missed White-front here early in the year, I was pleased to be able to add it to my parish year list...

Numerous Short-eared Owls join us each autumn, the sight of one flying in from the sea always special, more so if eye contact is made with their wonderful yellow eyes. © Arthur Grosset

26th October - 1st November

Wet weather from the SW opened the week, clearing by early afternoon. Overnight rain Monday continued into Tuesday, eventually clearing eastwards. Dry and frosty followed but rain returned for Thursday and a heavy, wintry shower struck on Friday evening by which time the wind was NE'ly. It was a cold, cloudy end to the week with the wind now in the east.

My shift pattern only allowed me to get to the clifftop fields for afternoon dog walking this week and on Tuesday, as we reached Upton Way, a flock of 13 Snow Buntings dropped in close to the footpath. Casting my eyes out to sea as we walked the clifftop, a single Shag flew south whilst 7 Shelduck and 2 Brent Geese headed north. An actively hunting Barn Owl at the Decca site may have been the same tired looking bird there in September, as it sported the distinct, buff breast-band of that bird. It kept dropping to the ground from the post and rail fencing along the southern edge, perhaps taking earthworms. The next day as we walked the same route, c.1000 Pink-footed Geese flew over to the NW and Starlings were flying in from the sea in several flocks. A Grey Heron appeared over the clifftop and flew quite high inland, perhaps a bird that had just crossed the North Sea or had finished the journey after a stop off on a gas rig. Out to sea, a Great Black-backed Gull was chasing a small, dark looking passerine over the waves. By the time I had my telescope trained on it the gull had knocked down and, I assume, drowned the unfortunate bird, for it's lifeless body could be seen floating in the water. I've witnessed this several times before and one wonders just how often this scenario takes place each autumn as 1000's of small birds struggle to reach our shores. Several Meadow Pipits along the base of the cliff prompted me to check the beach every few yards and it wasn't long before a late Wheatear appeared. A party of 5 'presumed' Linnets flew past, landing at the base of the cliff and on closer inspection I was surprised to see the yellowish bill and buffy face of a Twite looking back at me. Twite are quite a scarce winter visitor to Norfolk, favouring the saltmarshes of the north coast, so they were a rather unusual find at Happisburgh. The birds soon flew out of sight as they were disturbed by several people on the beach. Returning homeward, the Snow Buntings appeared, the flock size having increased to 14.

An easterly force 3-4 encouraged me to look at the sea before returning home on Thursday in the hope of some wildfowl passage. I watched for 25 minutes, logging a Teal, 40 Wigeon, 18 Eider, 60 Brent Geese and 5 Red-throated Divers all heading north. Southward passage was restricted to 4 Gannets. A shorter dog walk was called for today, so we walked the lane and back. Winter Thrushes had obviously been arriving as the paddocks and surrounding hedgerows contained a Fieldfare, c40 Redwings and at least 120 Blackbirds. It was quite astounding to see so many Blackbirds in a small area; how many more had arrived in the rest of the village I wondered. I heard the call of a Goldcrest from the trees behind the Anglian Water pumping station and a search revealed at least 2, along with 2 Chiffchaffs and a Pied Flycatcher that should really have been much further south by now.

The Thrush arrival prompted me to have a quick look near the church and cricket ground the following day, but I saw nothing more there than 10+ Goldcrests. I stopped near the paddocks to see if yesterday's Flycatcher was still there and was pleasantly surprised to see my 4th parish Yellow-browed Warbler of the autumn. A Chiffchaff was with it and a Brambling called from somewhere close by but the Pied Fly wasn't to be seen. I tried here again on Saturday, there were 2 Chiffchaffs again, as well as several Goldcrests and Song Thrushes. A flyover Grey Wagtail as I walked home may have landed on the paddocks.

Grey Wagtails nest quite close by but are only seen in Happisburgh on passage.
© Arthur Grosset

19th - 25th October

We had a dry start to the week with winds light and from the SW. Wind strength then picked up slightly, easing again on Friday, which led to a touch of frost the following morning. Plenty of bright periods were interspersed with more cloudy spells and Monday saw rain from late pm as did overnight from Thursday to Friday.

Passing through East Ruston early Monday afternoon, a birder was looking for the Osprey but I didn't have time to stop. Reaching Honing, I had to make time to stop as a 'ringtail' Harrier flew across the road in front of the car. I quickly got onto it, could see that it was a Hen Harrier, and I watched it reach Honing Hall woods where it flipped
over the treetops, drawing attention from a couple of Carrion Crows as it did so. Returning home by the same route I stopped at the fen where there was no sign of the Osprey, although a Common Buzzard appeared and a Kingfisher called, unseen. Two Marsh Tits were close to the road within quite a sizeable flock of mixed Blue, Great and at least 15 Long-tailed Tits. There seems to have been quite an influx of Tits this autumn, most noticeable from higher than usual encounters with parties of Long-tails. The next three days passed rather quietly but there were plenty of the common Thrushes in hedgerows whilst several flocks of Starlings and a few Chaffinches were noted westward on 23rd.

Friday morning after the school run saw me returning to East Ruston, where the Osprey was perched on a favourite tree and Bob was taking some more photos. It was totally at ease with our prescence and flew to other perch
es during our stay as it looked for fish, eventually flying to the body of water to the north of School Road. We followed it over, and on reaching the trees met Richard Rowe and Andrew from Cley Spy, who were also enjoying good views of it perched close by. We stopped awhile, chatting and soaking up the common's distinguished guest, noting 3 Marsh Harriers, c50 Siskins in the Alders and a secretive Water Rail close to the road. At 11:30 the Osprey flew low across the fen and directly overhead, giving us that remained fantastic views before it headed northwards. As far as I know, it wasn't seen here again; if anyone reading this knows any different I'd be glad to know. I'd noted a Chiffchaff feeding in the hedge as I left my car first thing, and following a walk around the west of the fen and back along Weavers Way with Richard, noted that it was still there. I had to pay another visit the following day, around noon, as we needed to make the monthly visit for Matilda's school project. It was quite chilly but we wandered around wrapped up warm. A single Redpoll flew over and a Little Grebe, or Dabchick, was on the open water. Heading back, a large brown bird appeared over the reeds, and my immediate reaction was that it was perhaps the Hen Harrier from earlier in the week. The girls were taken aback by my excitement when I soon realised it was a Bittern! It flew to our left and landed in the reed edge at the west end, where it soon disappeared into the reeds and out of sight. Bittern is a very rare breeding bird in the UK, nesting only in extensive reedbeds, and is afforded special protection under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Recent years have seen an increase in breeders though, and up to date information can be found in this informative 'Birdwatch' article. The habitat at East Ruston Fen has been recreated in recent years with the purpose of attracting and supporting Bitterns during the winter months, and with two other recent records prior to this one, it seems that the project is proving to be successful.

Bittern numbers are boosted each winter by birds from Europe, some of which will hopefully remain to expand the UK breeding range and population. This bird was photographed at Strumpshaw RSPB. © Ron McIntyre

12th - 18th October

Visibility was very poor to begin with, a dense fog enveloping this part of the county on Sunday morning. Light W to SW'lies followed although Thursday saw the wind veer to the NW for a time. It was generally fine and dry throughout with the exception of Wednesday/early Thursday when drizzly conditions turned to more persistent rain then showers.

Pink-footed Geese heralded the start to the week as many could be heard flying towards Lessingham and beyond above the thick, cold fog. It was clear above I know, for one skein directly overhead could just be made out, picked out by the sun which made them look rather ghostly through the gloom. Continuing the Goose theme, 20 'grey' Geese flying NW along the southern edge of the parish and seen from my garden on Tuesday, caught my attention initially with their calling which was unlike the higher pitched call of Pinks, being a noticeably more powerful, deeper 'honking'. I could see the birds in question, 20 in all, and they appeared quite large and stocky with long looking necks, large heads and quite dark upperwings. They weren't close, but my feeling is that they were possibly Bean Geese, probably birds of the Taiga breeding race fabalis. This subspecies visits the Yare valley in small numbers to overwinter (where they usually arrive quite late in the autumn), leaving the area in January/February. Scope views would have perhaps enabled me to be sure of their identification, so these had to go down, rather frustratingly, as possibles. I'd hoped they may have been picked up elsewhere but I heard no further reports.

Wednesday morning, and Ossie and I had a walk around the 'lighthouse fields' early on before the wet weather set in for the day. We soon found a party of 10 Snow Buntings, their rippling call advertising their prescence before we saw them. A Reed Bunting was also along the lane there and in the garden of Halcholm, just SW of the Decca site, were a pair of Stonechats. Two Wheatears fed in a field nearby too. I noticed that there wasn't a great deal of stubble left on the fields, most of it being ploughed in and redrilled with winter cereal. However, the large field towards the Cart Gap Road was still old stubble and several flights of Pink-footed Geese were whiffling down there so I drove around for a closer look. This was my first good look at Pinks on the ground this autumn, and they nervously watched back as I remained in the car.

With the wind shifting NW'ly on Thursday I managed 30 minutes watching the sea from the shelter of the RNLI building at the end of Beach Road. The wind strength was only light although I did manage to pick up 2 distant, unidentified Skua species, 3 Red-throated Divers, a few Gannets and singleton Mallard and Red-breasted Merganser. The best bird though was an adult or subadult Pomarine Skua which headed south quite a way offshore, the pale breast and dark rear end coupled with the characteristic lumbering, broad-winged jizz this species displays when cruising through on a light tail wind allowing a straightforward identification. East Ruston Common provided the interest at the end of the week for an Osprey had taken up residence, giving tremendous views as it either sat perched in dead trees, often looking for fish, or flying around the lake. It seems likely to be the same bird I saw here at the end of September and close inspection revealed it to be a juvenile bird bearing a metal ring on it's right leg. A Cetti's Warbler was again giving bursts of song from the dense vegetation and c.12 Siskins flew overhead; probably not too far as there is a good food source for them in the stands of Alders there. Bob spent several hours photographing the Osprey and whilst there on Saturday morning he was fortunate to see a family party of 2 adult and 5 young Whooper Swans drop in for a short while. Back at Happisburgh on Friday, a small flock of 15 Redwings were feeding along the edge of a hedge bordering the meadow behind Lower Farm and an immature Marsh Harrier passed through being mobbed by a Carrion Crow...

A superb portrait shot of the juvenile Osprey at East Ruston ~ Bob Cobbold.

This family party of Whooper Swans chose to stop off at East Ruston on their journey between Arctic breeding grounds and more temperate winter haunts in the UK ~ Bob Cobbold.

5th - 11th October

Sunday morning greeted us with heavy rain, torrential at times it seemed, before it cleared during the afternoon. Apart from some more, lighter, rain on Tuesday it remained dry. A light N-NE'ly wind opened the week, this soon backing round to SW for the most part. From the 9th, which was a lovely 'classic' autumnal day, it became a bit cooler.

It was so wet on Sunday morning that Oswald really wasn't bothered about staying indoors, but with the sun coming out during the afternoon he was more than pleased to venture out. We walked the lane to the paddocks, noting that the Redstart from last week was still present by the ditch, and insects disturbed by the cattle at Lower Farm were providing a source of food for a family party of 5 Swallows. These were present until at least the Wednesday and at one point they ventured over our garden where they hawked with a House Martin. A Monday morning walk to the village and along the cliffs to the Decca site and back was initially accompanied by several skeins of Pink-footed Geese, somewhere in excess of 1,500 all heading down towards east Norfolk. Cloud was slowly breaking as time passed and I took a favourite route off Beach Road and along the edge of the small field behind the RNLI towards St. Mary's to check for migrant birds that may have stopped off to feed. The habitat at Happisburgh village really is quite superb for small birds and, being situated atop the cliffs, must make a welcome sight visible from well out to sea to tired birds that have just flown perhaps many hundreds of kilometres. Today a Pied Flycatcher was living up to it's name in the treetops there and the hedge down to the lifeboat shed was providing shelter to another Redstart. Overhead were small numbers of Meadow Pipits and Chaffinches heading south and amongst the latter I heard the distinctive 'wheeze' call of Brambling. Heading south along the cliff, 2 Grey Plover landed briefly on the beach and a male Snow Bunting on the beach may well have been the bird reported to me last week. A Wheatear was also along this clifftop stretch and it was nice to catch up with Robin Abel, the finder of last years Buff-breasted Sanpiper that attracted many birders to the lighthouse field, who informed me he had seen two.

Tuesday saw our walk lead us away from the coast and follow the circuit towards Lessingham and along the footpath that leads back up to Whimpwell Green. Approaching the paddocks a small bird flew out of the mature hedgerow and across the field. It looked interesting and a closer look revealed it to be a Coal Tit, a bird which I seldom see in the parish although I'm sure more time spent watching around the village would turn them up more regularly. The SE facing side of the copse was sheltered and a real suntrap so I carefully approached as there was every chance a Warbler or similar insectivorous bird would be feeding there. A Chiffchaff was quite low down in the Hawthorns and soon joined by another but in the top of a Sycamore was something that was too small to be another and not behaving how I would normally expect a Goldcrest to. I suspected a rarer Phylloscopus and eventually saw enough to realise that it was another Yellow-browed Warbler, my third sighting in the area this autumn. It gave me several brief but decent views as it actively fed and then flew into the more dense foliage of an Oak where I lost sight of it. Also benefitting from the insects that were obviously abundant here was a Pied Flycatcher.

Quite a small warbler, the Yellow-browed has distinct supercilia and usually two obvious wing bars. They will often accompany Tit flocks when they reach our shores. © Ron McIntyre

Wednesday night through to Thursday saw the wind shift to NW, light in strength, and this was probably the reason behind a noticeable influx of Blackbirds. A few Song Thrushes were also involved but no 'winter' Thrushes yet. Saturday morning called for a change in location and I headed up to the cricket ground planning to walk out to the Coast Watch buildings. The highlight here occurred as I was getting Ossie on his lead when 5 Tree Sparrows flew over. Again, it was the call that alerted me and they continued flying towards the village. The field east of the track which had been a splendid sight in the spring, when full of Daffodils in bloom, now has a good covering of weeds and played host to c100 Meadow Pipits and c120 Linnets, the latter often wheeling around in a busy, twittering flock. Two Wheatears seemed to favour the heap of manure by the clifftop and the old pill box by the Coastwatch was being used by a pair of Stonechats to sight insect prey, the male often launching himself then hovering above the rank grasses as he searched. A male Reed Bunting looked at home along the track, one spent some time along here last winter, and 5 Siskins flew westward overhead as we headed back...

28th September - 4th October

In comparison to the previous seven days, the wind had a westerly element to it all week, and from Tuesday it was quite windy at times during daylight hours. Conversely, the air was still enough overnight to give us the first frost of the autumn on Friday morning. Most days saw some rain, albeit patchy at times, and the week ended with heavy rain after dark on Saturday.

As a part of her school curriculum, Matilda has to keep a nature diary, visiting her chosen site at least once a month and writing about what she sees there and accounting the changes she notices. For this project, we chose the part of East Ruston Common to the north of School Road where some of the scrub has been cleared to encourage heathland and a lake and reedbed habitat has been created to hopefully serve as a wintering ground for Bitterns. We visited on Sunday morning as cloud steadily built up, armed with notebook and camera to see how things had changed from September. Siskins were evident, with c.60 zipping around in between time spent feeding in Alder stands and we recorded Marsh Tit, Chiffchaff and Cetti's Warbler too. But it was birds of prey that were the main feature for we saw single Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Marsh Harrier, 2 Common Buzzards and best of all, I glanced up as an Osprey drifted low down, directly overhead. I was hoping it may fish in front of us but it flew beyond the lake, where a Buzzard 'buzzed' it, before gaining a bit of height and heading towards Honing. Oswald's walk didn't take place until mid-afternoon; after patiently waiting in he was more than pleased to be going out. We only did the lane as far as the paddocks, and in the light breeze small birds were easier to find. Because the wind was generally W-NW, the migrants we did see had undoubtedly made landfall last week and were either still feeding up before moving on or were gradually reorientating south-eastwards. Where a ditch had recently been cleared was proving to be attractive habitat for 3 Redstarts and along the lane were 2 Stonechats, a Whinchat, 2+ Chiffchaffs, 6+ Song Thrushes and several Robins and Dunnocks. A 'spizzik' call from above was given by a Grey Wagtail which appeared to drop down somewhere by the paddocks, perhaps in the water filled ditch there. At least 1 Redstart was still present at the end of the week.

Since the creation of the open water areas at East Ruston, passage Ospreys have stopped by to feed on several occasions.
© Ron McIntyre

On Thursday, the pager reported Great Northern Diver and 27 Shags past Walcott in a stiff NW'ly but the highlight of my day was 3 House Martins over the garden, and whilst driving home from work I had seen my first returning Redwings as a flock of c.10 went over at Beeston St. Lawrence. The wind was stronger the following day and had a bit more north to it, but being at work until 5:30pm meant I couldn't get to seawatch until past 6 c'clock. In the half hour I was there I saw a Great Skua, 2 Arctic Skuas, 5 distant 'Commic' Terns (not specifically identified but either Common or Arctic Tern), a few Gannets and 30 Kittiwakes and on the sea sat a female Eider. As I stood there a chap stopped to question me about a bird he had seen earlier on the grass between the RNLI and the caravan site. Describing a Thrush sized bird with white wings and black wingtips, he had me stumped, but the following day I bumped into him again and he told me he had seen two more of the same bird that morning on the beach at Eccles. He showed me a photo he had taken on his camera and, zooming in on the brown blobs, I realised that yesterday's bird was obviously a Snow Bunting...

21st - 27th September

No cloud and no wind is how the week commenced, although a light E-NE on Monday had increasedto force 5 by Tuesday, easing to a light in strength by Friday and reverting to a gentle W'ly for the weekend. Cloud was variable throughout, it remained dry and we saw plenty of sunshine.

Tuesday, with a brisk NE'ly, tempted me twice to the sea to watch for seabirds. My first session was only for 30 mins and I came away having noted just 3 Arctic Skuas and a single Great Skua. Back again at 10:45 I stayed for an hour and fared slightly better. It was looking like a good day for Great Skua passage was underway and no fewer than 25 passed southwards. One Arctic and 4 very distant, unidentified Skua species also passed south, as well as c.50 Sandwich Terns whilst one of my favourite seabirds, a Sooty Shearwater headed north. Wildfowl was poorly represented with just 20 Common Scoter, 2 Wigeon, 20 Teal and a single Brent Goose moving by.

With the air still originating from the continent, good numbers of small migrant birds were still arriving. During the week, wherever I went, there were birds that had drifted in from northern Europe and perhaps further east. Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests, Redstarts were all present in good numbers along with a few each of Common and Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap, Garden Warbler and Willow Warbler. Wheatears, Pied Flycatchers and Whinchats were also noted and from 26th, Robins were most abundant with over 100 seen locally that day. Also during the week were the autumn's first Bramblings, 2 in the garden of Briar Lodge, and Song Thrushes 'dropping out of the sky' was indicative of birds making landfall. Siskins, that brightly coloured green and black finch often seen on garden feeders, were on the move and seen or heard most days as were occasional Reed Buntings and Redpolls. A southerly passage of Meadow Pipits was especially evident on Saturday when the Dunnock population seemed to have increased too.

With NE'lies in September, birders thoughts turn to birds with a more distant origin, and most are eagerly anticipating the arrival of birds that breed in Siberia and normally winter in the Indian subcontinent or south-east Asia. I'm no different, and on Wednesday morning as I took Ossie for his daily exercise, a Warbler flew from a Hawthorn and away into a short stretch of Sycamore hedge. I was struck by it's small size and my suspicions were soon confirmed when a Yellow-browed Warbler appeared amongst the slowly turning Sycamore leaves. This species is one of the more regular 'Sibes' that turn up in the UK and with their nearest breeding grounds are some 3,000 km distant, this little fellow had made quite a journey. Two days later I was walking along the drain that borders the meadows behind Lower Farm, checking for migrants in any available cover. Reaching the row of Poplars I paused and began 'pishing' to attract any small birds that may be sheltering nearby when, lo and behold, the first bird to investigate was another Yellow-browed Warbler. As it was only about 500m and 2 days from the first, it could possibly have been the same bird, but that is something that will remain a mystery. Shortly after, a sharp piercing whistle heard was the call of a Kingfisher and this one most likely was the same bird I recorded nearby earlier in August...

14th - 20th September

'Wind in the east, dry at least'. And so it was. By the end of the week southerlies had established, remaining light in strength as it had been all week.

Although Happisburgh lacks suitable habitat for it to breed, the Reed Warbler still doubtless passes through the parish in small numbers on it's migrations each year. Seemingly not as common on passage as they used to be, the nearest reedbeds at East Ruston seemed to be thronging with singing males this summer, and one in the thorny thicket in the SW corner of the Decca site on Sunday morning was a welcome local record. Yellow Wagtail, 3 Wheatears and a Common Whitethroat were also around the general area and when I looked out of our living room window later in the day, a flash of a red tail dropping out of the Eucalyptus alerted me to a Common Redstart which spent the remainder of the day in local gardens. This individual may have been the forerunner of events to come, for the following day when I arrived home early afternoon, the rear gardens held Spotted Flycatcher, 1+ Pied Flycatcher, 2 Redstarts and single Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. It felt almost as if my garden was a coastal bird observatory! The Scandinavian high pressure and associated easterlies had worked their magic and a huge fall of migrants had taken place. Ossies walk along the lane turned up at least 2 more Pied Fly's, 4+ Redstarts and 2 Willow Warblers. Over the next few days, birds continued to arrive and many coastal Norfolk locations scored some good double figure counts of such commoner migrants as well as small numbers of scarcer ones such as Wryneck and Red-backed Shrike. Wheatear was another bird involved and at least 11 were in clifftop fields south of the village on Tuesday afternoon.

Once again this week, the Hobby showed over the garden and there was still a Redstart, perhaps the same, frequenting mine and neighbouring gardens throughout. Friday 19th saw an event that all Happisburgh residents can't fail to become aware of each autumn; the first Pink-footed Geese returning from their summer away. I was in the back garden when at 5:45pm I became aware of the distinctive sound of Pinks and looked up to see c.100 just south of School Common Road flying not SE towards the broads, but NW up county. I'd not seen any previously this autumn, nor heard of any other sightings, and naturally expected that the first birds would be moving down the coast. Perhaps these ones had migrated into continental Europe before relocating across the southern North Sea into East Anglia and were heading on to one of their favoured roosts along the north coast. I saw two more small parties the following day heading 'the proper way' towards east Norfolk.

Pleased at the previous week's raptor sightings, a larger bird of prey than the more usual Kestrel, Sparrowhawk or Hobby was spotted from the garden on Saturday afternoon. Circling just south of the village, I managed to get it through my binoculars before it disappeared. It was a typically plumaged Common Buzzard, a probable continental migrant utilising the same favourable weather conditions that were bringing the smaller birds across and several others had been seen in recent days across the eastern counties. Shortly after 2 Swifts slowly but purposefully headed over southwards, the shortening daylight hours urging them to seek warmer climes.

7th - 13th September

The wind had swung overnight through 180˚ and was from the NW on Sunday morning. It remained rather variable and never went much over beaufort force 3 throughout the week, settling into a light E-NE on Saturday. It was mostly dry too apart from a heavy shower on Sunday morning and up until mid afternoon on Friday.

Although from the right direction, the wind on Sunday was only a breeze at best, but the passage across the central UK of an area of low pressure worked like magic regarding good quality seabirds around the Norfolk coast. And I was otherwise engaged! These things happen from time to time, and on the day it's almost gruelling hearing of events unfolding at sea watching points along t
he coast and with the sea just a few hundred yards away. In the garden that morning, a distinct 'tlip, tlip' call had me exclaiming "Tree Sparrow?" to no-one other than the dog. Quite a scarcity these days, it had been a long time since I'd heard them but somewhere deep in my memory a past experience must have been recalled. Looking up, a sparrow type bird was flying towards the bottom of the garden where it landed in a large Oak. I grabbed my 'bins' and could see it in the treetop, mostly obscured and partly silhouetted by the morning sun but still giving the call. Willing it to reveal itself more I kept watch and it eventually flew, this time towards me. My immediate neighbours always feed the birds at the back of their house and quite a flock of House Sparrows builds up at times. This morning they were mostly settled in a large shrub and my probable soon became a definite Tree Sparrow when it joined it's closer, commoner cousins allowing me to see the chestnut cap, neat black bib and black cheek spot that readily identifies them. As with many of our smaller farmland birds, Tree Sparrow numbers have declined steeply over the last few years and this one came as a welcome addition to my garden list. It was also the first time in many years that I had seen the species in Happisburgh. Given the timing of the sighting, this one was perhaps a passing migrant taking an opportunity to refuel rather than a bird from a local population unknown to me.

Tuesday morning saw me
walking Ossie up to Cart gap and along Doggetts Lane looking for migrants. Several Chiffchaffs and the odd Willow Warbler were encountered along the way as well as a family party of Whitethroats, 2 Wheatears and a female type Redstart which gave fleeting glimpses in the small fenced off garden near the pay and display. A Sparrowhawk flew steadily and low northward and may have been a passage bird. Checking the sea from time to time was generally fruitless with 3 Red-throated Divers, a few Common and Sandwich Terns, 4 Teal, 10 Gannets and singles of Arctic Skua, Dunlin and Common Scoter noted. Reaching the Decca site a Barn Owl was sitting on one of the fence posts looking rather tired and closer inspection revealed a distinct, buff breast band. It also showed rather dark upperparts and more richly coloured primary coverts than is usually seen in British Barn Owls. Although variable, the further east you look through Euope, the darker Barn Owls tend to be to the extent that the entire underparts can be almost rusty-orange. Such birds very occasionally occur in the UK although generally later in the year and ringing studies have shown that there is interchange both ways between British ringed and European ringed birds. Perhaps this bird was of near continental origin or was the offspring of a pairing between a British and a more distant, darker European bird. There was no sign of it the following day and I hoped it had managed to recover enough strength to move on and thrive.

Barn Owls aren't that unusual in NE Norfolk but this resting bird may well have journeyed from mainland Europe.

Saturday morning dawned with a mist which later turning into weak, scuddy cloud blown inland on a light NE'ly. By the time I'd walked half way to the paddocks along School Common Road my pager had delivered news of 4 Honey Buzzards seen coming in from the North Sea at points north and south of Happisburgh. I had been scanning all around anyway, but this new information changed my luck for as I looked back, a large raptor appeared from behind the cover near Laurel Lodge. It was circling and slowly gaining height and instantly recognisable as a Honey Buzzard with its long, flat to downcurved wing profile and comparatively long and almost constantly flexed tail. Against the sunlight it also showed a pale patch in the primary feathers on each wing, a good distinguishing feature of Honeys. The upperparts appeared quite dark and the dark trailing edge to the flight feathers suggested that it was probably an adult female. It began to drop so I moved out into the field a little and soon got onto it again to watch it continue southwards where it joined up with another; 2 Honey Buzzards now, and I could see my house in the same field of view! It was a great start to the morning and by the end of the day a maximum of 54 had been reported on the pager through the county, the huge Scandinavian high pressure and weak weather fronts over the southern North Sea producing the conditions to direct them to our shores. A Grey Heron south over the clifftop fields may also have come in from the sea and later that afternoon, when I nipped outside yet again to look for big birds, a superb Osprey was flapping southwards just east of the garden, perhaps having detected either Hickling or Barton Broad. A truly memorable raptor day indeed.

Other sightings during this excellent week pale somewhat into insignificance but include 2 Common Swifts south over the garden on Thursday afternoon and a Hobby getting seen off by a Jackdaw at the same place but earlier the same day...

31st August - 6th September

The start of the week looked promising with a light SE'ly wind and hazy sunshine which was broken by a heavy shower during the afternoon. Several spells of rain and heavy showers followed almost daily until late on Friday from when it remained dry through to the weekend. Apart from a brief time in the NW onTuesday, the wind remained off the land, returning to the SE during Friday where it stayed. Monday to Wednesday were rather breezy.

Optimistically, I set off along the track to the Coastwatch early on Sunday morning. It was the last day of August and the wind was a light SE'ly; there ought to be something about, even if only some common migrants having arrived overnight from mainland Europe. As I reached the cottages half way along the track some movement in the large Willow there drew my attention. My suspicions were soon confirmed when a young Pied Flycatcher flitted back into view. Moving my position slightly, two more darted out of the tree onto the roof of the first cottage where they perched briefly before seeking out the safety of more foliage. A classic drift migrant in such weather conditions at this time of year Pied Fly's, as they are referred to by most birders, are captivating little birds with their dark eye staring out from a rather plain face as they flick their wings and tails before sallying off to snatch an unsuspecting flying insect. The males in spring are striking black and white birds but are, sadly, infrequent visitors. The gardens and hedgerow along here were quite productive and by the time I had continued along the clifftop and back through the caravan site and churchyard I had seen 2+ Willow Warblers, 5+ Chiffchaffs and 3 Wheatears to add to the tally. On the ground behind the Cricket Club were 5 Yellow Wagtails whilst another 2 flew over head to the south-east. A Hobby shot through too; not the usual bird I see around for this was a juvenile bird. Calling from overhead, but unseen, were single Golden Plover and Common Sandpiper, their positions high in the hazy sky impossible to locate. A text from Andy told me he had been up to the Decca site during the morning where he had seen 2 Whinchats and a Tree Pipit.

During the week Wheatears were seen on several days, peaking at 5 on Friday morning, the same day that a dark juvenile Arctic Skua was chasing Terns right over the beach. It was also this day I became aware that the number of Swallows around the houses at home had increased quite dramatically and in the region of 50 birds were present, spending time sitting on the wires and rooftops as well as noisily flying around. It's a wonderful sound to behold and one I revelled in for a while, wholly aware that they would soon be gone and only stragglers would be seen until their return next spring.

Classically an English association with summer, Swallows are most numerous in early autumn as birds flock up in preparation for the long, hazardous journey south.

An early seawatch until 8am on Saturday produced a Manx Shearwater south and 2 returning Fulmars offshore as well as 3 Shags and 4 Golden Plovers north, with 2 Sanderlings and a single Grey Plover south. Letting the cat out after her breakfast coincided with the adult Hobby patrolling the lane and 5 Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler were around the paddocks when I ventured out with Ossie...

24th - 30th August

The wind direction followed a similar pattern to last week; SW'ly until Friday when it turned NW'ly. By Saturday morning it had veered to the south-east. Wind strength remained rather light throughout and, with some light rain, Monday was the only wet day.

Family parties of Goldfinches have been grouping together following successful breeding and c.20 have been regularly seen along our lane; the buffy headed juveniles are easily differentiated from the more boldy marked parent birds. There were still 4+ Spotted Flycatchers in the trees by Moat Farm this week and the Willow Warbler had been joined by a second bird and a Chiffchaff, whilst in our garden the berries of a Himalayan Honeysuckle were proving irresistible to a male Blackcap. The majority of our Swifts leave by the end of August and I noticed just one present over the garden on the 27th; any sightings from now will be noteworthy.

From the 28th was quite eventful and I visited the clifftop each day. A Yellow Wagtail headed SE on Wednesday, 2 Common Whitethroats and 7 Wheatear were south-east of the lighthouse on Thursday and something was going on with Redshanks. I heard some calling and got onto a flock of 22 flying west with 2 Knot, followed by 2 more with a single Knot. Shortly after another flock flew east, perhaps containing the original birds, but this time numbering 45. Three smaller waders may have been the 2 + 1 Knot. Finally a lone bird flew south-west calling.

Usually only seen here in small numbers, the large flock of Redshanks this week was rather surprising
© Ron McIntyre

An early seawatch the following morning added a new species to my Happisburgh list when I picked up a Balearic Shearwater flying north at about middle distance. What is possibly the same bird has been seen several times in recent days from Eccles and Sea Palling, flying both north and south at various times of the day. A few others have been seen elsewhere around the coast, but the regular appearance of a single bird off this part of the coastline leads me to believe that one may be roosting either offshore here or even in a suitable crevice on one of the reefs off Sea Palling. On a worldwide scale Balearics are very rare, indeed it's status on the IUCN Red List is 'critically endangered'. This is mainly down to predation at the breeding colonies by introduced mammals such as cats and rats. They nest on cliffs and small islets in the Balearic Islands and outside the breeding season they wander around the western Mediterranean and venture northwards to the seas around the UK and as far north as south-western Scandinavia. More in-depth information can be found on the excellent Birdlife International website.

It was quite hazy on Saturday in the light SE'ly breeze as I parked at the Cricket Club and headed out towards the Coastwatch. Hearing Swallows alarm, I looked up for the usual Hobby sighting but nothing was apparent. Putting Ossie on his lead the alarms continued, so I looked around to catch the tail end of a large raptor disappearing westward, quite low, behind the barn complex at the Forge. From the brief views had I suspected it was most likely a Marsh Harrier and hoped that nothing rarer was reported during the day! A Golden Plover flew over calling and Lesser Whitethroat and Yellow Wagtail were present as I walked the track. Scanning the slightly swelling, almost oily looking sea 2 Balearic Shearwaters were heading south, close together and not too far out. Their brown colouration, dusky markings to the underwing, broad 'hand' and pot-bellied appearance allowed me to easily identify them even through my 10x binoculars. I'd left my pager at home but when I checked it I was pleased to see that two had been seen together passing Cley less than an hour previously. Several other birders managed to track them past other sites further round the coast, in all a good set of records of this rare species...

17th - 23rd August

From SW'lies at the start of the week the wind shifted through 90 degrees to end up NW'ly at the weekend. Conditions were a bit blustery at times particularly when one of the numerous showers was passing.

Half an hour watching the sea at Walcott early Tuesday afternoon was rather uneventful apart from an exceptionally heavy downpour during which I could hardly see the sea from the sea wall. Bird interest was restricted to 9 Gannets and 4 Arctic Skuas south and a juvenile Mediterranean Gull flying north along the shore. Once home, and with the sun out again, I took a walk towards Lessingham. On reaching Moat Farm I was pleasantly surprised to notice that there were several small birds in the trees there. Feeding quite high up were at least 4 Spotted Flycatchers and a nice yellow juvenile Willow Warbler along with an assorted Tit flock. Further around the circuit were 2 more Spotted Flycatchers and a sprinkling of Willow Warblers so it seemed probable that an arrival had taken place. In birding terms an arrival such as this, especially following rain or the passage of a weather front, is known as a 'fall' and is something that is always keenly anticipated amongst birders. Close study of current and predicted weather patterns can give a good indication as to when a fall may occur and to find oneself in the middle of a sudden arrival of birds is an exciting and memorable event. Close to Lessingham Star is a field that had recently been harvested of peas. The bare soil and clumps of haulms presumably harboured good feeding and had proved attractive to a mixed flock of c.150 Rooks and Jackdaws and c. 100 Gulls, mostly Lesser Black-backed.

The rest of the week continued rather quietly and a couple of visits to the clifftops saw little although a Wheatear was by the large muck heap and the 'local' Hobby showed itself 3 times. A female Eider appeared to have taken up semi-residence just offshore and the odd Arctic Skua was seen too. There were, however, really good numbers of Common and Sandwich Terns offshore on the 21st; the whole panorama was filled with feeding or passing birds. With the wind turning NW'ly during Friday I was a bit disappointed to be working and unable to look for seabirds, especially on Saturday when I heard that good numbers of Shearwaters and waders had been recorded along the coast...

10th - 16th August

A bright, breezy week ensued, warm on the Sunday, cooler on the Monday but warming by the weekend. There was a good mix of sunshine and cloud and light rain overnight from the 11th was perhaps the build up to a torrential shower mid-morning on the 12th.

The biggest surprise of the week came on Monday morning when, as I walked Ossie to the end of the lane, there was a Kingfisher sitting on a wooden rail by the watery ditch at the paddocks. It was only there briefly for as soon as I saw it, it saw me and was off. Without any decent ponds or water courses in the parish I had rated my chances of recording one here as very slim. They do however occur as a coastal migrant but are recorded rather infrequently. Walking back home one of the Turtle Doves was perched on the telegraph wires that cross the fields here. A Sparrowhawk (or 2) was seen over the garden on Sunday and Friday, the former a juvenile bird that perched in my next door neighbour's garden for a while. I was able to get some photographs by shooting through a narrow gap in the fence. Perhaps due to the inexperience of youth, it didn't see me and fly; I'm sure such keen eyesight must have detected me through the gap. The Hobby was also over again this week causing panic amongst the House Martins once more.

Not always welcomed in gardens Sparrowhawks are nontheless fascinating and beautifully marked birds.

Friday saw a few Chiffchaffs appear and although I didn't get close up, their behaviour led me to believe that it was a family party. Ossie had a long walk on Saturday, across the fields to the cliffs near our lovely lighthouse and back. A little migration was evident with a Curlew and 2 Golden Plover flying north and a southward bound juvenile Wheatear was feeding along a grassy bank. At sea a Red-throated Diver was close inshore, resplendent in full summer plumage, and small numbers of Common and Sandwich Terns were feeding and passing by...

3rd - 9th August

With the exception of Friday 8th, when a force 5-6 NNE'ly blew up, the winds this week were generally light and with a S'ly bias. It was however a week of cloud, any prolonged spells of sun were few and far between and we were subjected to many showers, some longer periods of rain and thunderstorms after dark midweek.

I visited Cart Gap early morning a couple of times but couldn't make it on the Friday in the onshore blow, these being better conditions for sea-birding than winds off the land. I heard from Bob, who had managed to watch for a while at Walcott, and Gannets, a few Arctic Skuas and a Manx Shearwater passed by whilst he was there. My sightings included the usual Terns and Gannets and one morning 2 each of Knot and Redshank flew north. Turnstone numbers had reached 13 at Walcott by Thursday and 27 Herring Gulls, were loafing there. Saturday 9th dawned and the wind was S'ly, force 1-2 with 7 oktas cloud cover for the hour that I watched from06:25. Gannets were abundant this morning with 145 north and 73 south and with them were 4 Fulmar and 2 Kittiwakes, again northward bound. A party of 6 Little Terns flew by and waders were represented by Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover and Sanderling. A single Red-throated Diver, still rather early, flew south and ducks passing north totalled 19 Common Scoter and 11 Teal.

Warblers are starting to become a bit more obvious of late; they tend to go rather quiet and secretive as their breeding season progresses, I guess the constant demand for attention takes it's toll. A Blackcap was 'tacking' in the garden on and off and Chiffchaffs were more numerous than usual including 5 for a couple of days in a local clump of trees and brambles. Whilst sorting some stuff for recycling one morning a noise like the start of a cat fight alerted me. Thinking maybe our cat Polly may be in trouble, I looked up at the very moment a Little Egret flew from behind the house, the most likely perpetrator of the harsh noise. Still a rather uncommon sight in Happisburgh, it was the first I had seen from the garden and a good one for the garden list. Aside from a visit by the Hobby again, on the 6th, there was nothing else of note seen...