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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 ...

17th – 23rd February

Continuing with overnight fog and frosts we saw temperatures down to -5°C early in the week but with the winds veering through SE to SW and increasing, the associated cloud brought temperatures up and it felt much milder. Showers developed on 22nd and the week ended on a mostly cloudy note, the sun only occasionally peeking through.

Heading towards the village one morning I recounted “One for sorrow, two for joy….” but wondered what I’d get for the 9 Magpies I could see in a roadside field. At the same time, a Jay flew along the hedge, the crow family today represented by the more colourful members. Our ‘colourful’ woodpecker, the Green Woodpecker, was giving his laughing call from the row of mature trees along the bottom of the garden for a couple of days this week too. Indeed, he was joined later on by a Great Spotted Woodpecker, whom I see here much more regularly. Just along the lane into Lessingham is the nest hole of a pair of Great Spots, the young of which I could hear from a long way off last summer. Who knows, perhaps my garden visitor is one of these birds.

I didn’t venture towards Cart Gap this week but I did see another flock of Yellowhammers, 30+ that I hadn’t seen before despite driving past where they were nearly every day. Checking through them several times, they didn’t harbour anything unusual but were a welcome sight. Yellowhammers always seem to do well as breeders in pockets of suitable habitat here in NE Norfolk so perhaps a flock this size may have been a gathering of local birds. As I watched one day a Grey Heron overflew, perhaps heading for someone’s garden pond hoping for an easy meal. Shortly after this I saw another of our herons in the form of a Little Egret that initially masqueraded as a white plastic bag along the edge of a field close to home. No doubt it was the same one I have seen around here before but had disappeared when I returned with my camera.

Perhaps the same bird as at Happisburgh, this Little Egret was photographed at Wayford Bridge.

A large gull overflying my garden on Friday proved to be a Lesser Black-backed Gull, an addition to the 2008 list. Increasingly common as winter visitors, they can often be seen amongst the flocks of westward moving Herring Gulls that are a common springtime sight along the coast, but this individual was on a heading for Hickling and may have been bound for the Broad there as many do to bathe and sleep.

10th – 16th February

Anti-cyclonic conditions prevailed for the week, clear skies and very light winds resulting in some overnight frosts and mist with lots of now warming sunshine during daylight hours. Because of the latter, insects have been waking up. ‘Mozzies’ and the odd Bumblebee have been evident and a Peacock butterfly was on the wing along the lane on the 12th. The 13th started the same way but by early afternoon we were lost in a thick fog and it felt rather cold. Cloud cover and a NE’ly breeze on the 14th kept the fog at bay and there was some drizzle for a time, but sunny skies returned for the last two days with the wind staying fixed from the continent.

One of Happisburgh Common's resident Barn Owls; a familiar sight.

Throwing the curtains back on Sunday morning the first thing to draw my attention was the regular Barn Owl hunting the meadows. Often we don’t see him here for several days at a time but this morning he clearly found this quarter of his territory to his liking. I had the opportunity to take Oswald out for a longer walk than normal this morning so decided to head away from the Cart Gap end of the parish and try some paths that were new to us. I didn’t see anything too exciting but some good hedgerows and paddocks with the potential to attract birds later in the spring were noted. It didn’t matter too much though as we both enjoyed the walk and I was feeling somewhat overdressed by the time I got home, such was the warmth from the sun. Nearer to home, the flock (or wisp) of Snipe that I saw early in January were again in the same place, their numbers now having increased to at least 10. They are obviously finding the feeding to their liking here. In the backyard at dusk, some familiar calls alerted me to 200+ Pink-footed Geese as they flew over quite high heading for NW Norfolk or beyond. Although numbers passing here have really dwindled now, there are still several hundred in Broadland and I wonder if perhaps they are getting their fill of the now growing, nutrient rich grass to increase their energy reserves before the spring exodus from the county.

Before the Monday morning mist cleared, a dense Ivy in the garden became the brief cafeteria for a Goldcrest. Britain’s smallest bird (along with its brighter cousin, the Firecrest) I never tire of watching them, they are charismatic little birds, and the dark green of the Ivy really enhances the paler greens of the Goldcrest’s plumage. Before long he was off, over the fence to visit a neighbour’s leylandii, silent whilst Wren, Robin, Song Thrush, Greenfinch and Chaffinch all sang nearby.

The Yellowhammer is a common sight around the narrow, hedged lanes of NE Norfolk.

At the weekend, we headed again up to the lighthouse fields where Oswald enjoys a good run. On the way up there Fieldfares and Redwings, 16 and 10 respectively, were foraging on Lower Farm’s grass and 10+ Greenfinches were joined in the hedgerows by 7 Yellowhammers. I’d not seen these buntings here before and wondered if they had recently arrived, the easterly winds of late perhaps encouraging them across from the near continent. A large plover flock flying in from the west landed close to a small flood near Cart Gap and many began to bathe, at least 150 Lapwings and up to 1,000 Golden Plovers being the constituents. Most intriguing though were 2 Brent Geese circling low over the clifftop field here, a parish ‘year tick’. They appeared to be wanting to land and may have done so; disappearing over the ridge and out of sight, I didn’t find out. The coastal fields and marshes of North Norfolk are the more normal haunts of Brent Geese, the dark-bellied form being the common variant wintering in Norfolk. They can often be seen flying westward offshore in quite large and frequent skeins during autumn migration as they arrive from northern Europe. Brents have a penchant for the intertidal growing Eelgrass, Zostera, and seeing them on the deck in East Norfolk is slightly unusual.

3rd – 9th February

"February fill dyke, black or white" says the old, local adage, but so far it remains largely dry and mild with the wind mostly from the SW and no iminent snow. We did briefly see SE'ly at the beginning of the week and a light NW'ly on the 6th. The week started off feeling cold, becoming milder towards the end except in any of the frequent passing showers. Several days saw extended bright sunshine.

A welcome addition to the parish year list was seen on the afternoon of the 4th. As I returned homeward with Oswald close behind, a pale bird across the fields caught my eye. It disappeared behind a hedge almost immediately and given the time, 4.25pm, I assumed it would be the local Barn Owl out foraging. I was therefore more than pleased when a splendid male Hen Harrier appeared. I watched captivated as he flew low and slowly southward in full view for a minute or so until he disappeared, doubtless heading for the raptor roost in northern Broadland. The Hen Harrier isn’t exactly a rare bird but it is still much maligned and wrongly persecuted over much of its range. The brown females/juveniles outnumber the handsome grey males so to see one is always exciting. As he passed by, 15 Fieldfares sitting in a tree looked completely nonplussed by this potential predator.

A male Hen Harrier; always special to see.
Our wintering Pink-footed Goose numbers have reduced noticeably now and a small flock passing overhead after dark on the 7th were betrayed only by their calls, a sound I always love to hear. It will be many months before we can again enjoy the spectacle of huge flocks crossing back and forth across Happisburgh’s skies.

With the days getting ever longer birds continue to anticipate spring and their impending focus on pairing up and breeding. As I was walking near the lighthouse on the 9th a male Skylark delivered his spirit-lifting descant whilst dancing high above the fields. Although present throughout the winter in small roving flocks this individual is the first I’ve heard in song here this year. The pair of Grey Partridge was also along the road to Cart Gap, only a short distance from where I had seen them previously. It was indeed a most beautiful day following on from a light early morning frost and you could almost be forgiven for forgetting it was still February. However, a Fieldfare and 12 Redwings feeding along a field edge close to the water pumping station at Whimpwell Green served as a reminder that winter could still bite back hard...

27th January – 2nd February

A glorious start and end to the week’s weather was spoiled rather by the middle which was at times very windy, cold and saw some fog and frequent heavy showers.

With the days lengthening noticeably, it seems that our winter visiting thrushes are continuing to slowly filter back towards the east coast in preparation for a North Sea crossing and on to their Scandinavian and Russian breeding grounds. A walk along the paths near Lower Farm allowed me to appreciate 10+ Fieldfare, 7 Redwing and 2 Mistle Thrushes brazenly feeding on the short turf there along with 3 Blackbirds which avoided the open grass and foraged near the hedgerows. The Mistle Thrushes are likely to be a local breeding pair, males of which have been very vocal recently, proclaiming their territory and availability as a prospective mate with a song similar to the Blackbird but less varied, more haunting and much further carrying. Other birds that seemed to be proclaiming the wonderful weather of Sunday 27th as the start of the Spring with their song were Robin, Dunnock, Chaffinch and Greenfinch.

The distinctive grey head, rump and rufous back can be clearly seen on this Fieldfare.

For 3 days from the 28th I was unable to see Happisburgh in daylight at all, due to work commitments, and Oswald had a different companion for his daily walk. On the afternoon of Thursday 31st things were back to normal and we both headed out to stretch our legs and see what was about. The 3 Blackbirds were still close to the hedges as before but the numbers of Fieldfare had increased to 28, Redwings to 14. Around the nearby horse paddocks were 10 hyperactive Long-tailed Tits accompanied by a minute Goldcrest, my first of the latter in the Parish this year. Both of these can often be fearless and inquisitive and will approach closely if the observer makes a repeated ‘pishing’ sound.

February kicked off very windy but sunny and cold. Snow was forecast for much of the UK although we fared rather well here with barely a dusting falling after dark. Another flock of Fieldfares appeared, this time 24 were on a winter cereal field by Willow farm. Dredging of the dykes around the Lower Farm meadows had perhaps spooked the Redwings there but 22 remaining Fieldfares were oblivious as were almost 100 Lapwings that had joined them. Rounding the corner here the following day I was pleasantly surprised to see 2 Grey Partridges spook from the field edge calling ‘kik-ik-ik’, the dark horseshoe mark on their bellies obvious to the naked eye as they banked away. With the population of this native species reduced by as much as 80% over the last 25-30 years, it is nice to see them so close to home. I’ll be listening out for the distinctive grating ‘keearrick’ song of the male in weeks to come.